November 1, 2017

African-American student moves forward with challenge to race-based admissions in St. Louis schools

By Kevin Desormeaux Digital Content Manager

In the second decade of the 21st century, can an African-American student still be turned away from a public school because of his or her skin color?

In the City of St. Louis, the answer—incredibly—is yes. Under a web of race-based limits on student transfers, charter and magnet schools in the city are open to kids from the suburbs—but only if they are white, Asian, or Latino. Black kids from the suburbs are out of luck. They are barred from enrolling in any St. Louis charter or magnet school.

These discriminatory restrictions stem from a court-ordered integration plan years ago. They have lingered on even though the court ended its jurisdiction over area schools in 1999.

Now, a victim of these racial barriers is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to allow his constitutional challenge to move forward. Ten-year-old Edmund Lee lives with his family in the St. Louis suburb of Maryland Heights. If he were white, he would be free to apply to any charter or magnet school in the City of St. Louis. But Edmund is African-American. Therefore, he is automatically disqualified from doing so.

In challenging this denial of his constitutional rights, Edmund is represented free of charge by Pacific Legal Foundation.

“Edmund is taking a courageous and principled stand for fundamental rights,” said PLF Senior Attorney Joshua Thompson. “Whatever may have been the rationale for these race-based transfer restrictions years ago, they have no justification now. Edmund simply wants the same opportunity as his white neighbors. They can apply to schools in the city. Why can’t he? There can be no excuse in the 21st century for denying equal opportunity to any child—or any adult—based on skin color.”

One of the reasons Edmund and his family are so committed to this fight is that he had the opportunity to attend a St. Louis charter school through third grade, when his family still lived in the city. He was a successful and well-liked pupil, and his family inquired into whether he could stay at the school as a transfer student after they moved to Maryland Heights. They were shocked when they were told his race made that impossible.

Edmund’s current appeal to the Supreme Court deals with a question that is procedural, but still central to the ultimate outcome of his case: Is the defendant in his lawsuit, the Voluntary Interdistrict Choice Corporation (VICC), really at fault for the race-based restrictions that Edmund is challenging? “From the beginning of this discriminatory program, VICC has been designated as its official custodian and enforcer,” said Thompson. “Therefore, Edmund should be allowed to bring his case against VICC, and the courts should order VICC to rescind these offensive, discriminatory—and unconstitutional—regulations.”

The case is E.L v. Voluntary Interdistrict Choice Corporation. More information can be found at: pacificlegal.org/edmundlee.

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Edmund Lee Jr. v. Voluntary Interdistrict Choice Corporation

As part of a decades-old desegregation lawsuit settlement in St. Louis, Missouri, the Voluntary Inderdistrict Choice Corporation (VICC) enacted a policy for city and county schools that prohibits African-American students who live in the county from transferring into magnet and charter schools within the St. Louis city limits. White students may transfer to these schools. African-American third grader Edmund Lee happily attended a charter school in the city and wanted to continue when his family moved out into the county. The policy prohibited his transfer because of his race. PLF represents Edmund and his mother, La’Shieka White, in a lawsuit challenging the policy as violating the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause.

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