Judge okays BPS exam school plan

Judge William Young

A federal judge ruled on April 15 that the Boston School Committee can proceed with selecting students for the city’s three exam schools via a formula based on grade point average and zip codes, rather than using GPAs and the traditional entrance exams.

US District Court Judge William Young said the new method, enacted due to the difficulties of giving multiple-choice tests in the middle of a pandemic, was not racially biased.

“This Court finds and rules that the Plan is race-neutral, and that neither the factors used nor the goal of greater diversity qualify as a racial classification,” Young wrote in a decision on a suit brought by a group of white and Asian American parents.

BPS had initially hoped to begin sending out acceptance letters to families last Thursday for Boston Latin School, Boston Latin Academy, and the John D. O’Bryant School. After the Boston Parent Coalition for Academic Excellence Corp. filed its suit, Young had pressed both sides to speed up their filings so that students and parents would not be left wondering whether or not they were accepted.

The parent group contended that the new method, in which the top 20 percent of students sent acceptance letters would be chosen citywide by GPA, with the rest based on their GPA by zip code, starting with the city’s poorest districts, discriminated against whites and Asian-Americans.

But Young explained it did not. The judge noted that the plan, which was approved by the School Committee in October, does not use explicit racial designations to select potential candidates for seats at the three schools. That makes it “facially race neutral,” the judge wrote, adding that while the School Committee obviously considered the issue of racial equity in its deliberations, by itself that only recognizes the reality of Boston demographics, and is not an explicit decision to bias the selection process against whites and Asian-Americans.

In fact, he criticized the parents’ filings for their “cavalier interpretations” of the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal-protection doctrine.

“Without question, some statements raise cause for concern. The statement within the Equity Planning Tool, for example, about a hard pivot away from equality and toward equity simply has no support in the Equal Protection jurisprudence of the Supreme Court,” he wrote. “Had this Plan unconstitutionally substituted equality of result for equality of opportunity along racial lines, this Court would not hesitate to strike it down. But that is not what happened here.”

He continued that, if anything, the School Committee took another tack: That while it did consider race, the plan it approved also accomplished another goal having nothing directly to do with race: to ensure that students get into the schools from all neighborhoods and economic classes.

Young cautioned he was only approving the BPS plan for the 2021-22 school year.