SEATTLE -- This city's school district decided in 2000 that because the son of Jill Kurfirst and the daughter of Winnie Bachwitz are white, they should be assigned to an inferior and distant high school. If they had not left the Seattle school system, this would have required them to rise at 5 a.m. in order to leave home by 5:30 a.m., alone and in the dark, to take the first of three buses, returning home between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m., with almost no time left for homework, family activities and adequate sleep.
The parents argue that the racial school assignments -- actually, assignments by pigmentation -- that so injured their children violate the Constitution's guarantee of equal protection of the laws. The reliably unreliable 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals -- often reversed but never in doubt -- predictably ruled, with interesting indifference to pertinent Supreme Court precedents, against the parents. Soon -- oral arguments are Monday -- the Supreme Court can remind the 9th Circuit of the Constitution's limits on what schools can do in the name of ``diversity.''
Students can seek admission to any of Seattle's high schools. But the Seattle School District decided to engineer a precise racial balance in its most popular -- because much better -- high schools, which are chosen by more students than they can accommodate. The district wanted each oversubscribed school to reflect the entire system's ratio of 40 percent whites and 60 percent nonwhites. So it adopted a race-based admission plan to shape the schools' ``diversity.''
The district gave preference to certain applicants, using considerations it called ``tiebreakers.'' One, which benefited about 10 percent of applicants, was whether the student had a sibling at the desired school. Another was whether the student's race will produce or maintain a 40-60 balance.
When registering children for high school, parents were asked to specify each child's race. If parents did not specify, the district did so based on visual inspection of the parents' or child's pigmentation. The school board president has said ``skin tone matters.''
The two children wanted to attend Ballard High School because of its Biotech Academy. In the 2000-01 school year, when 82 percent of the city's students sought admission to one of the five best schools, the children were among the 300 students denied admission to the school of their choice because their race interfered with racial balancing.