The Chicago Public Schools Desegregation Consent Decree of 1980 was designed to remedy a pattern of segregation based on race and ethnic origin within Chicago Public Schools. Some of the practices included, but were not limited to, allowing white children permissive transfers to schools with majority white enrollment when their assigned schools had populations that were majority minority; drawing attendance boundaries that maintained or compounded racial segregation, and the maintenance of racially disproportionate numbers of severely overcrowded and educationally inferior schools intended for black students and less crowded schools intended for white students. One of the remedies to address the issue of segregation was the creation of additional magnet schools, the composition of which would be 35 percent white and 65 percent minority.

The Consent Decree was vacated in September, ’09 after CPS successfully demonstrated that they have been in compliance since ’80, and they have mitigated the factors that brought the suit from the U.S. government, to the extent possible given the racial composition of the Chicago Public School system. During a recent press conference, Chicago Public Schools CEO Ron Huberman stated that it is now unlawful to use race as a determining factor in school admissions.

In a Nov. 28, 2009 letter to the editor of the Chicago Tribune, Harvey Grossman, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, Chicago (ACLU) indicated that CPS incorrectly interprets a recent Supreme Court decision as barring any consideration of race in K-12 school admissions. The court ruled in ’07 that while race cannot be the “sole” factor, it can be included as one of many factors in the admissions process. The Louisville school district-on of the two school districts involved in the critical 2007 Supreme Court decision-actually is using race as part of its admission plan after the court’s decision. (Chicago Tribune)

The CPS proposal is similar to models used in San Francisco; Charlotte, N.C.; and Cambridge, Mass. Each school district experienced less diversity after they implemented similar plans that used only socio-economic factors.

It should be noted that the new proposal represents a significant reversal in CPS’ position regarding the use of race in admissions. Twice in recent years, the CPS board advocated the importance of maintaining race as a factor in the admissions process. In ’05, a blue-ribbon commission of educators and citizens examined the admissions policies at magnet schools, including gifted, classical and selective enrollment elementary and high schools, and made recommendations for the future. The commission concluded that “unless race continues to be a selection factor, there is a danger of losing diversity in some schools.” (Chicago Tribune)

It is against this backdrop that CPS must revamp its admissions policies for magnet and selective enrollment schools in time for the 2010-2011 school year.