E.L. v. Voluntary Interdistrict Choice Corporation
Until recently, ten-year-old Edmund Lee, Jr.’s, family lived in St. Louis, where Edmund attended Gateway Science Academy—an exceptional charter school. When the family moved to a new neighborhood in suburban St. Louis County, they asked to keep Edmund in his school under a policy that allowed suburban students to attend charter schools in St. Louis. The school denied the transfer because a 1999 government policy banned black students from transferring to city public schools.
This policy originated as a replacement to federal supervision of St. Louis schools, which began in the 1970s and ended in 1999. A new agreement in 1999 created the Voluntary Interdistrict Choice Corporation (VICC), which administers the St. Louis Student Transfer Program.
VICC voluntarily extended the previous policy, which only permits transfers of African-American students into county schools and non-African-American suburban students into city schools. This policy flatly forbids Edmund from attending Gateway while he lives in the county, because he is African-American. This race-based policy plainly violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
A federal district court rejected the lawsuit. In the court’s view, Edmund should have sued the charter school instead of the VICC, which originally promulgated the racially discriminatory policy. A federal appeals court agreed with the VICC that since it didn’t run charter schools, it had no control over Edmund’s admission—even though the VICC created the race-based policy that blocked Edmund from his chosen school.
On behalf of Edmund and his mother La’Shieka White, PLF petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to review the discriminatory policy and vindicated Edmund’s right to equal protection under the law. In January 2018, the Supreme Court declined to hear the case. However, our lawsuit made it clear to St. Louis charter schools that they are no longer bound by VICC’s discriminatory policy and were no longer required to discriminate on the basis of race.