…the Education and Justice departments also scrapped Obama-era documents encouraging public schools to boost diversity through school zoning or admissions into competitive schools or programs, among other approaches. Now, some are worried school districts will invite scrutiny from federal officials if they pursue such paths.
— The background: At issue is a 2007 Supreme Court decision that struck down voluntary race-conscious student assignment plans aimed at improving racial balance in public school districts. One year later, the George W. Bush administration stressed in guidelines that “the Department of Education strongly encourages the use of race-neutral methods for assigning students to elementary and secondary schools.”
— But 2011 guidelines issued by the Obama administration detailed a number of ways that public school districts could improve diversity without making decisions based on the race of individual students, in light of the high court’s decision. The guidance stressed that school districts must “use race-neutral approaches only if they are workable.” But when they’re not, districts “may employ generalized race-based approaches,” like redrawing attendance zones “based on the racial composition of particular neighborhoods, as well as on race-neutral factors such as the average household income and average parental education level of particular neighborhoods within the school district.”
— The Obama administration also said school districts could consider diversity in admitting students into competitive schools and in how they funnel students from elementary to middle schools, known as feeder patterns. The guidance also encouraged districts to consider diversity in designing open enrollment policies that allow families to choose from among different public schools.
— Noelle Ellerson Ng, associate executive director of policy and advocacy for AASA, The School Superintendents Association, said the Obama administration’s guidance never drew ire from superintendents or pressured them to adopt such policies — it simply outlined suggestions for local communities that determined diversity was a priority.
— But there’s now concern that school districts might face consequences for considering these avenues should the Trump administration adhere strictly to the Bush guidance, Ellerson Ng said. “If schools decide to use race as a factor when they look at how they zone elementary or middle schools, for example, that could come under suspicion in the new Trump schema,” she said.