Supreme Court Declines to Review Lower Court Decision Prohibiting the Use of Race in Approving Student Transfers

March 20, 2000
The United States Supreme Court today [Monday, March 20] declined the Montgomery County Board of Education's request to review a lower court's decision prohibiting any consideration of race or ethnicity as a factor in approving student transfers.

The Board of Education already had suspended the student transfer policy for the Montgomery County Public Schools as a result of a Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals' ruling in October and pending a decision by the Supreme Court.

Student transfers are permitted now only on the basis of the following limited circumstances: a documented hardship, the presence of an older sibling at the school at the same time, and/or the continuation of the student to the next higher level of schooling (for example, elementary to middle school) except when affected by boundary changes.

"We are obviously distraught that nearly a half-century of progress will end in Montgomery County and elsewhere around the United States in recognizing the benefits of diversity among children in our schools," said Mrs. Patricia B. O'Neill, president of the Board of Education. "We have worked very hard to avoid creating racially isolated schools, and today's action by the Supreme Court essentially ties our hands in the face of the changing social demographics of our schools and communities."

The Supreme Court's decision stems from a request in December by the Board of Education to review and overturn a decision of the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond last fall that essentially barred the school system from using race and ethnicity in consideration of student transfers.

In February, the case expanded to a national issue with a focus on the differing federal court interpretations of previous Supreme Court decisions involving race and ethnicity, when 17 education and social organizations from across the country, led by the National School Boards Association, filed a brief with the Supreme Court in support of the Board of Education's request.

Prior to the Court of Appeals ruling, transfers of students from one school to another were permitted if the transfer did not lead to the creation of a racially isolated student body or negatively impact stability, utilization, and enrollment. The transfer policy became one way that the Board of Education was able to carry out its commitment to Quality Integrated Education, a policy adopted in 1983 to assure a diverse, integrated educational setting.

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