Photo Courtesy of Alberto G. via Creative Commons
The Board of Education (BOE) has requested a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit disputing the fairness of its magnet middle school admissions process. The Board claims that the lawsuit is no longer relevant because the admissions process has changed during the pandemic.
Filed last September by the Association for Educational Fairness (AEF), a primarily Asian-American parent coalition, the lawsuit alleges that the magnet middle school admissions process discriminates against Asian-Americans and violates the U.S. Constitution’s Equal Protection clause. The clause mandates that individuals in similar circumstances are treated similarly.
In its lawsuit, the AEF argues that Asian-American students have lost “more than a fifth of the seats at each program” since the admissions process was changed in 2017, while Black and Hispanic students have “benefited from the changes.”
“The county’s admissions process discriminates against Asian American students,” Christopher Kieser, an attorney at Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF), said in a PLF article. “Every child should have the same opportunity to access the magnet schools, and the county can’t take their race into account when deciding who can attend those schools. Doing so violates the students’ constitutional rights.”
A 2016 report submitted to the BOE found that middle school magnet programs admitted white and Asian students at higher rates than their Black and Hispanic peers. As a result, the BoE implemented a new admissions process for its magnet middle schools.
In 2017, the admissions process began considering students’ home school “peer groups.” According to a Bethesda Magazine article, “students are considered less favorably for a seat if there are 20 or more gifted classmates at their home schools.”
BOE officials reasoned that students whose assigned high schools contain a large population of high-achieving students had academic environments and peers that would be similarly intellectually challenged and grouped. However, students without similarly advanced peers at their home high schools had a “greater need for magnet programs.”
The AEF argues that the changes “were targeted to reduce the percentage of Asian-American students who enroll in the magnet middle school programs, with the ultimate goal of racially balancing these schools according to the racial demographics of Montgomery County,” in their complaint introduction to the U.S District Court of Maryland.
Last December, the county introduced yet another new magnet middle school admissions process, partially due to the COVID-19 pandemic and limited testing reliance.
Students who “demonstrate a need for enriched and accelerated programming” are placed into a lottery pool, and then selected for either their respective regional middle school programs or enrichment courses at their local middle schools. “Students in [the] pool will be guaranteed enrichment and acceleration,” according to an MCPS FAQ document.
MCPS maintains that the new process, and all previous processes, are race-blind and based on multiple academic measures, such as grades and standardized test scores.