A U.S. Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday in the Lower Merion School District’s favor in a redistricting lawsuit that accused the district of inappropriately using race as an influencing factor.
This decision comes almost eight months after the case was argued in front of the appeals panel April 28.
“We hold that the plan here passes constitutional muster because it does not select students based on racial classifications, it does not use race to assign benefits or burdens in the school assignment process, it does not apply the plan in a discriminatory manner, and it does not have a racially discriminatory purpose,” the order reads. “Strict scrutiny does not apply. The appropriate test to determine the constitutionality of the District‘s school assignment plan is rational basis. In our view, the District has met the rational basis test with its redistricting plan — Plan 3R. We shall affirm the District Court‘s order.”
The lawsuit was initially filed by nine African American students from Ardmore (Students Doe) against the district, alleging LMSD violated the students’ fourteenth amendment rights and the Civil Rights Act when the district adopted a new redistricting plan on Jan. 12, 2009.
U.S. District Judge Michael M. Baylson found that the school board used race as one of several motivating factors in their redistricting decisions, but did not break any laws, according to Philadelphia Inquirer reports of the earlier trial.
The plan sent students in some South Ardmore neighborhoods to Harriton High School instead of the closer Lower Merion High School. That includes students who live south of Athens Road to County Line Road and between West Wynnewood Avenue and Cricket Avenue, according to the Main Line Times.
“The District is very pleased with the ruling of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit and we greatly appreciate the understanding and support of our community throughout this long and complex process. This is yet another reaffirmation that the policy and practices adopted by the District were educationally and operationally appropriate, and Constitutional,” reads a statement released by Lower Merion School District on Thursday.
“We are also grateful for the support of our legal position that was presented to the appellate Court by significant outside intervenors, namely the U.S. Departments of Justice and Education, as well as the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, and the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation. We firmly believe this ruling should be the final chapter in this dispute and sincerely hope that our resilient community can continue to work together on behalf of all our children,” Thursday's LMSD statement reads.
A spokesman for the families who filed the lawsuit told the Main Line Times on Thursday they will study the court's decision to determine their next steps.
At the ArdWood Civic Association’s October 2010 “Community Conversations” with school administrators, parents said buses taking students from South Ardmore to Harriton High School had been called the “loser cruiser” and “the black bus” by other students in the district.
Superintendent Chris McGinley, at the meeting, told parents he first heard about the term “loser cruiser” in winter 2009, calling it outrageous. He told parents the district conducted an investigation into the name-calling, but the source of it was never located.