Appeals Court Denies Appeal in Exam School Case

A federal appeals court has denied a request by a group of parents to halt the implementation of the Boston Exam Schools admissions plan for the 2021-22 school year. As a result, admissions decisions were released to prospective students on April 28, indicated law firm Brown Rudnick.

The School Committee developed an admissions plan for the 2021-22 school year in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which prevented the administration of the entrance test that had been used in previous years. The School Committee landed on a plan that allocates seats based on a combination of GPA and the number of school-age children living in each of Boston’s 29 ZIP codes. One of the School Committee’s objectives in approving the one-year plan was to improve racial, socioeconomic, and geographic diversity in the schools and to raise the quality of education for students throughout the city of Boston. 

The Boston Parent Coalition for Academic Excellence Corporation, which consists of a group of parents of students from high-income ZIP codes expected to lose seats under the plan, first challenged the plan in the federal District Court for the District of Massachusetts, arguing that it improperly favored Black and Latinx students to the detriment of white and Asian-American students, violating the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. U.S. District Judge William Young ruled in favor of the School Committee, finding that the plan “does not have the effect of subjecting students to discrimination because of their race. Geographic and socioeconomic diversity are appropriate educational goals in their own right, regardless of race.” The ruling sided with an amicus brief filed in support of the School Committee by international law firm Brown Rudnick LLP, Massachusetts Law Reform Institute (MLRI), LatinoJustice PRLDEF (LatinoJustice), and the Children’s Law Center of Massachusetts (CLCM).

The parent group immediately appealed that decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit and requested an emergency injunction to prevent the School Committee from issuing admissions decisions pursuant to the plan until the conclusion of the appeal. The appellate court denied the parent group’s emergency request. The panel of three judges that issued the opinion found that the parent group was unlikely to succeed on the merits of their appeal and that delaying the School Committee’s  release of decisions “would unsettle . . . the plans of thousands of families awaiting those decisions.” The panel further stated, “[t]he public interest is best served by permitting defendants to finalize and communicate admissions decisions based on the plan, not by entering plaintiff’s proposed injunction and throwing the Exam School admissions process into chaos.”

“The First Circuit’s opinion is another strong rebuke of the Boston Parent Coalition’s challenge and affirms the legitimacy of the School Committee’s desire to provide equal access to high quality education for Boston students from all backgrounds and parts of the city,” said Brian Alosco, Brown Rudnick Associate in the Litigation & Arbitration Practice Group, who led the team of attorneys on a pro bono basis serving as co-counsel on the amicus brief. “This ruling will also finally allow Boston families to have some clarity as to where their children will be attending school in the fall,” Alosco said.

The amicus brief filed by Brown Rudnick, MLRI, LatinoJustice, and CLCM at the district court, and joined by 23 prominent national and local organizations (listed as amici curiae below), noted that while the School Committee properly considered the past and present racial and socioeconomic discrimination that historically has created racially segregated neighborhoods across the City, today Boston is very diverse within and across its ZIP codes, and the admissions plan did not use ZIP codes as a proxy for race.

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