Saturday, April 4, 2009

Ward Connely Watch: The California Appellate Court upholds Berkeley student-assignment plan - rejects bid from Connerly

Ward Connerly, the California businessman who launched successful anti-affirmative-action campaigns in nearly 10 states, was unsuccessful in his latest attempt to thwart a Berkeley, Calif., student-assignment plan to promote diversity in its schools.

The NAACP Legal Defense Fund (LDF), along with a coalition of civil rights groups including the ACLU of Northern California, the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights and the ACLU of Southern California, successfully represented a group of parents who intervened to protect the student assignment plan in Berkeley, California against the challenge from Ward Connerly's American Civil Rights Foundation. Berkeley's plan seeks to promote diversity in its schools by taking account of the demographics of the neighborhoods where students live, including parental education level; family income; and race and/or ethnicity."

The California Appellate Court ruled that Berkeley's new plan to weigh demographics of neighborhoods where students live, parental education levels, family income and race to further diversify its schools does not violate Proposition 209--the Connerly-authored constitutional provision that makes it illegal to grant privilege or preference based on race. The court's decision appropriately recognized the importance of school district efforts to bring students together across lines of race and class and to provide access and opportunities to students who live in areas of concentrated disadvantage. In 2007, the United States Supreme Court similarly recognized the importance of efforts to promote diversity and avoid racial isolation in schools in Seattle and Louisville, and the ability of school districts to take account of neighborhood demographics, including race, as part of those efforts.

"The constitutional provision prohibits unequal treatment of particular person and groups of persons; it does not prohibit the collection and consideration of community-wide demographic factors," said Justice Patricia Sepulveda, writing for the majority in the California Court of Appeals.

This is an important victory for those who understand the importance of a diverse learning environment and believe that opportunity should be equally afforded to all," said John Payton, NAACP Legal and Educational Defense Fund president and director-counsel.

Connerly's lawsuit challenged the most recent efforts of the Berkeley school district to integrate its schools; indeed Berkeley has been at the national forefront of such efforts for decades. In 1954, on the heels of Brown v. Board of Education, a citizens' commission was formed which concluded that Berkeley suffered from severe housing segregation that led to racial isolation in the schools. In 1968, the school district became one of the first in the nation to integrate its schools voluntarily. Over time and in light of the continued residential segregation in Berkeley, the school district continued to adopt and revise its student assignment plans to preserve integration in its schools, leading up to the 2004 plan successfully defended today.

The NAACP Legal Defense Fund has worked to dismantle racial segregation and ensure equal educational opportunity in our nation's schools for over six decades, representing African-American students in Brown v. Board of Education and numerous subsequent landmark school desegregation cases. Information about LDF's school diversity work can be accessed on this site, including a manual for parents, educators and advocates entitled Still Looking to the Future: Voluntary K-12 School Integration. 

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