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Originally published July 24, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified August 7, 2007 at 2:27 PM

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Guest columnist

Race has no place in Seattle schools

For all the praise and criticism surrounding the Supreme Court decision against the Seattle school district's racial tiebreaker, not enough...

Special to The Times

For all the praise and criticism surrounding the Supreme Court decision against the Seattle school district's racial tiebreaker, not enough has been said about the policy's impact on students of all races — how students before the litigation were denied the choice of a neighborhood high school, and how hundreds of future students, had the School Board prevailed, would have risen at dawn, spent several hours a day riding two or three buses to and from school, and missed out on after-class activities if they wanted to be home before dark.

These are the concerns — the use of race to take time away from our children's education — that triggered opposition to the School Board's plan.

To a parent involved when this issue emerged six years ago, the myths that have grown up about this case are astounding.

Here are just a few:

The School Board fought to preserve the right of minority students to go to high schools of their choice.

Wrong. The Seattle School Board fought to take away that right of choice. During the years when the district plan was in effect, Asian students who wanted to go to Franklin High were forced to go elsewhere and white students were selected to take their place. African-American students were denied the choice of their neighborhood school, so they could be used to displace white students who wanted to go to Ballard High.

The whole point of the school district plan was to satisfy the district's quotas (40 percent white, 60 percent nonwhite) at popular high schools. In the service of this quota, the plan sought to take away — not give — choice to students. Or, to be more precise, it shifted choice from parents to the school district.

The parents who brought the lawsuit were opposed to diversity in Seattle high schools.

Wrong. Time and again we offered to settle the lawsuit: The School Board should accomplish diversity by taking into account neighborhood, family income, family educational background and other nonracial factors — but the School Board should not force a student to go or not go to a school just because of his or her skin color.

The School Board rejected this proposal on several occasions and also rejected a proposal by the Seattle Urban League that included race as a factor in high-school assignments but lessened its importance when contrasted with neighborhoods and other factors. As one board member said of the Urban League plan, "I chose not to read it. I'd rather play with my bass lunker fishing game."

The School Board plan not only didn't achieve diversity, but by labeling every student white or nonwhite, it did not recognize how truly racially diverse a city Seattle is.

Without being allowed to use race in assigning students to high schools, the Seattle high schools will become more segregated.

Wrong. If one compares the projected enrollments in 2000, without the use of racial preferences, and the enrollment today, five years after the suspension of the plan (something the school district never publicly does), there has been no resegregation — the racial shifts have been slight.

The irony is that the real shift to racially unbalanced public schools in the city of Seattle and other cities took place decades ago with "white flight" to the suburbs and private schools, caused in large part by earlier massive elementary-school forced-busing programs.

The Supreme Court has repealed Brown v. Board of Education.

Wrong. In the 1950s, Linda Brown, a Topeka, Kan., African-American third-grader, had been denied the right to go to her neighborhood elementary school because of her skin color. The Supreme Court then declared such governmental action unconstitutional.

Last month, the Supreme Court, following the Brown case, said the Seattle School Board could not deny our children the right to go to their neighborhood high schools just because of their skin color.

Of course, the School Board argued, as did the segregationist Topeka School Board in the Brown case, that the use of race was benign and def-erence should be given to the expertise of a local board. Fortunately, the Supreme Court disagreed.

What has really taken place over the past several years is an educational con game. The School Board diverted attention from the major issue of improving the quality of all schools by playing the race card. It spent millions of tax dollars on legal fees because of the violation of our civil rights — dollars that could have been spent on improving the education of all. It spent endless hours of meetings figuring out how to force students to go to high schools against their will rather than on how to improve the teaching and curriculum for all.

But now, the School Board members must face up to what they are elected to do: see that all Seattle's children, regardless of skin color, receive a quality education.

John R. Miller, a member of Parents Involved in Community Schools, which sued the Seattle school district over its racial tiebreaker plan, is a former Seattle councilman, member of Congress and ambassador. He is on the faculty of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs in Washington, D.C., and a senior Discovery Institute fellow.

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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