May 4, 2016

PLF files major civil rights case challenging discriminatory St. Louis transfer program

By Wen Fa Attorney

The St. Louis transfer program allows students living in St. Louis County to attend magnet schools within city limits — unless the student is black. The program made headlines recently when it threatened to banish third-grader Edmund Lee Jr. from Gateway Science Academy, the school he has attended his entire life. Today PLF is proud to stand with Edmund. We are asking a federal court to terminate the program’s race-based restrictions, and to allow Edmund to attend Gateway for fourth grade.

Gateway is not the defendant. The administrators at Gateway like Edmund, and would miss him if he were forced to attend another school. Rather, we’re suing the Voluntary Interdistrict Choice Corporation, the entity responsible for the program and its sordid racial classifications.

Our argument is straightforward. Absent the most extraordinary circumstances, the Constitution prohibits the government from dishing out burdens and benefits on the basis of race. Those circumstances are not present here. The program cannot be justified by an interest in remedying past discrimination, because the consent decree that created the program was dissolved by the court in 1999. The program cannot be justified by an interest in a diverse student body, because it considers race to be the sole measure of diversity.

The program is thus plainly unconstitutional. It lets Edmund’s neighbors attend Gateway if they are white, but prevents Edmund from doing so because he is black.

It is truly sad that such a blatantly discriminatory program still exists in America today. PLF attorneys will work to do to the transfer program what civil rights leaders did to similar forms of discrimination over half a century ago. We will end it.

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E.L. 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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