May 04, 2016

Mother sues over transfer rules that block son because he is black

St. Louis, Missouri;  May 4, 2016: An African-American mother today sued over race-based transfer and enrollment restrictions for St. Louis-area public schools that will block her son from attending the school of his choice next year — simply because he is black.

La’Shieka White is represented, free of charge, by attorneys with Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF), a national public interest watchdog organization that litigates for equal rights and educational choice.

Filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri, her lawsuit targets race-based restrictions that prohibit African-American students who reside in St. Louis County from transferring to public schools in the City of St. Louis, while allowing students who are not African-American to make such transfers.

The discriminatory restrictions — described as “outrageous” by Pacific Legal Foundation — were first adopted more than three decades ago as part of a consent decree governing the court-ordered integration of St. Louis-area schools.  The race-based transfer restrictions are implemented under a student enrollment scheme called the St. Louis Student Transfer Program.

Until recently, Mrs. White lived in the City of St. Louis, where her nine-year-old son, Edmund, is a third-grader at Gateway Science Academy, a charter school in south St. Louis.  The family has now moved to Maryland Heights, Missouri, in St. Louis County, but they would like to continue enrolling Edmund in Gateway, where he has been excelling since kindergarten.  However, they are barred from doing so in the coming school year, because he would have to transfer into Gateway from their new residence in the County — and the St. Louis Transfer Program would not allow him to do so, because he is African-American.  The St. Louis Student Transfer program allows only non-black students living in the County to transfer to public schools in the City.

This racially discriminatory policy was designed to facilitate desegregation, but the lawsuit filed today points out that prohibiting individual students from attending the schools of their choice, merely because of their race, violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Named as defendant is the Voluntary Interdistrict Choice Corporation (VICC), which was established by the St. Louis-area public schools to administer the Transfer Program.

“Outrageous — and unconstitutional”

“It is outrageous that in this day and age, there would still be policies on the books that turn children away from the school of their choice because of the color of their skin,” said PLF Principal Attorney Joshua Thompson.  “This discrimination isn’t just unacceptable, it is flat-out unconstitutional.  No matter how benign the goals of this policy might have seemed decades ago, as an instrument of desegregation, race can no longer be the driving force in determining where St. Louis-area children may go to school.  There can be no excuse in the 21st century for denying any student equal opportunity without regard to race.  Under our Constitution, the schools system cannot say to La’Shieka White and her son, ‘You are black, therefore, no transfer for you.’”

“This case is important for students of all races,” said La’Shieka White.  “School policies should treat everyone the same, regardless of color.  I was shocked, I was literally crying, when I learned that the guidelines would keep my son from transferring to the school he loves and where he’s doing great, and where all the teachers and administrators love him, because he is African-American.  That’s not fair and that’s not what America is about.  I am grateful to be working with Pacific Legal Foundation to bring an end to this policy, so no children will be taught that their race can disqualify them and hold them back.”

History of the discriminatory St. Louis-area transfer restrictions

The race-based transfer restrictions have their roots in the settlement of a desegregation lawsuit for the St. Louis-area schools that dates to the early 1970s.

In 1980, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals found that St. Louis area schools were racially segregated, and a “system-wide remedy” was needed for a “system-wide violation.”  The resulting federal court-approved remedy permitted voluntary race-based transfers and encouraged the creation of magnet schools in the City of Louis.  To facilitate desegregation, the St. Louis Transfer Program permitted black students in the City of St. Louis to transfer to schools in St. Louis County, and non-black students from the County could transfer to schools — including the new magnet schools — in the City.  The federal courts retained jurisdiction over the case to ensure that St. Louis schools would become integrated.

In 1999, federal oversight over St. Louis-area schools ended.  However, the race-based Transfer Program continued, and St. Louis area-schools created the VICC to administer it.  Run by the superintendents of St. Louis-area schools, and funded by state dollars, VICC was originally designed to administer the Transfer Program for 10 years.  However, the Transfer Program has been extended twice, and VICC will continue to administer it at least until the 2018-2019 school year, unless the courts intercede to block the program’s constitutional violations.

About Pacific Legal Foundation
Donor-supported Pacific Legal Foundation is a watchdog organization that litigates for limited government, individual rights, equal protection, and educational choice, in courts nationwide.  PLF represents all clients without charging attorneys’ fees.

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