School Diversity During the COVID-19 Pandemic

UPDATE: July 15, 2021 – After a five-hour community hearing, the Boston School Committee voted unanimously to implement the new admissions plan, which will be a more equitable process and ensure greater diversity. Read more.

GLAD has signed onto an amicus brief in support of the Defendants in Boston Parent Coalition for Academic Excellence Corp., v. The School Committee of the City of Boston. Read the brief here.

April 15, 2021 – Judge Young ruled 4/15 to uphold the admissions plan. Read the ruling here.

April 5, 2021 BOSTON – International law firm Brown Rudnick LLP, Massachusetts Law Reform Institute (“MLRI”), LatinoJustice PRLDEF (“LatinoJustice”), and the Children’s Law Center of Massachusetts (“CLCM”) filed an amicus brief in support of the School Committee of the City of Boston (the “School Committee”) as it defends its Boston Exam Schools admissions plan for the 2021-22 school year. The School Committee developed the plan in response to the COVID-19 pandemic while seeking to improve racial, socioeconomic, and geographic diversity in the schools and to raise the quality of education for students throughout the city of Boston.

The amicus brief, which has been joined by 23 prominent national and local organizations (listed below), addresses admissions to the three Boston Exam Schools: the Boston Latin School, the Boston Latin Academy, and the John D. O’Bryant School of Mathematics and Science. The elite Boston Exam Schools (the “Schools”) are among the highest ranked public schools in the nation. The Schools are renowned for their academic rigor and excellence, superior resources, and higher rates of graduation and attendance at four-year colleges as compared to other Boston Public Schools. As a result, every seat is highly coveted. Each school accepts students for grades 7 and 9, and accepted students stay on through the completion of high school. Historically, the Schools have disproportionately enrolled students from Boston’s high-income neighborhoods. As a result, low-income students, who are predominantly Black and Latinx, have been consistently underrepresented at the Schools.

To make way for a more socioeconomically diverse student body, the Boston School Committee put forward a new plan with two changes to the Exam Schools admissions criteria for the 2021-22 academic year. First, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the plan eliminated an entrance exam. Second, the plan allocated 20% of seats based solely on GPA and the remaining 80% of seats allocated based on a combination of the student’s GPA and home ZIP code, with each ZIP code receiving seats based on the percentage of school-aged children living in that ZIP code. ZIP codes are ranked by median income for a family with school-age children, and then 10% of each ZIP code’s available seats are filled in order of students’ GPAs, beginning with the lowest median income ZIP code. The School Committee projects that the plan will increase the number of students admitted from Boston’s lowest-income neighborhoods thereby improving racial and socioeconomic diversity and creating more opportunities for students from underrepresented communities.

The Boston Parent Coalition for Academic Excellence Corporation, which consists of a group of parents of students from high-income ZIP codes expected to lose seats under the plan, challenged the plan in a lawsuit filed against the School Committee. The suit seeks to prohibit the use of ZIP codes as a factor in admissions. The coalition argues that ZIP codes are being used as a proxy for race, rendering the plan unconstitutional.

In response to the Boston Parent Coalition suit, Brown Rudnick’s amicus brief notes that while the School Committee properly considered the past and present racial and socioeconomic discrimination that historically has created racially segregated neighborhoods across the City, today Boston is incredibly diverse within and across its ZIP codes, and the Admissions Plan did not use ZIP codes as a proxy for race.

The brief states that the School Committee’s new plan addresses the legitimate government interests of expanding access to quality education for children from low-income homes and of promoting socioeconomic diversity as an academic benefit to all students. The brief also highlights the plan’s compelling pedagogical goals of promoting the educational benefits of a diverse student body to diminish racial isolation and to ensure that segregated housing patterns do not limit opportunities for low-income students of color, as well as the compelling interest of addressing past discrimination.

“The Massachusetts Law Reform Institute proudly joins with Brown Rudnick, LatinoJustice, and the Children’s Law Center of Massachusetts to support the Boston School Committee’s Exam School Admissions Plan,” said Virginia Benzan, Director of MLRI’s Race Equity & Justice Project. “Education can change the trajectory of a child’s life and we know that access to a quality education is an effective tool to ending poverty. The policy put forward by the School Committee shows that the City’s commitment to promoting socioeconomic, racial, and geographical diversity is more than just words but is followed with action. This policy is the right step to achieving educational equality and MLRI is honored to lend our voice in support of it.”

“All Boston students should have a fair opportunity to attend Boston’s most prestigious schools, regardless of their socioeconomic status or race. For too long, economically disadvantaged students, and consequently, students of color, have been underrepresented at the three Boston Exam Schools. The proposed Admissions Plan appropriately seeks to ensure that the diversity of the Boston Exam Schools more accurately reflects the diversity of Boston,” said Brian Alosco, Brown Rudnick Associate in the Litigation & Arbitration Practice Group, who is leading a team of attorneys on a pro bono basis serving as co-counsel on the amicus brief.

“Latinx and other students of color living in Boston’s segregated low-income neighborhoods deserve an equal opportunity to attend the city’s elite high schools. We are pleased that our amicus brief squarely puts before the court Boston’s long history of segregation and exclusion, which inextricably linked neighborhoods of color with lower socioeconomic households from which too many Latinx, Black, and other students of color hail,” said José Pérez, Deputy General Counsel of LatinoJustice PRLDEF.

“The Admissions Plan recognizes the transformational power of a high-quality education for students from economically disadvantaged households, students experiencing homelessness, and students who are involved in the child welfare system. CLCM firmly supports the Admissions Plan with the hope that it will produce a more equitable admissions process, especially in light of the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on disadvantaged communities,” says Stephanie Rodriguez-Ruiz, one of the attorneys representing CLCM.


About Brown Rudnick LLP

Brown Rudnick combines ingenuity with experience to achieve great outcomes for our clients. We deliver partner-driven services, with a focus on collaboration in the client’s best interest. Brown Rudnick is an international law firm, serving clients around the globe. With more than 250 lawyers and government relations professionals, the Firm has offices in key financial centers across the United States and Europe. We are recognized for our market-leading practices covering several targeted industries, including bankruptcy and corporate restructuring, life sciences, technology, litigation and arbitration, white-collar defense and government investigations, special situations, corporate finance, strategic capital, distressed debt, intellectual property, real estate, M&A, and cross-border deals and disputes.
Brown Rudnick is deeply committed to public service. Pro bono work is an integral part of our culture. Our lawyers, paralegals, and professional staff dedicate their time and talents to help individuals and organizations pursue civil rights and racial justice and in other matters.

About Massachusetts Law Reform Institute

The Massachusetts Law Reform Institute (“MLRI”) is a statewide nonprofit anti-poverty law and poverty center whose support center for civil legal aid organizations in Massachusetts. MLRI’s mission is to advance economic, social, and racial justice for low-income persons and communities. MLRI works to address public and institutional policies and procedures that either contribute to, or perpetuate, the cycle of poverty; ensure that low-income and underserved populations across the state are provided the same legal protections, rights and liberties enjoyed by all members of society; provide local legal services providers and community-based advocacy organizations that serve low-income people with the substantive expertise, and dismantle systems that thwart the advancement and inclusion of Asian, Black, Latino, and Native American low-income people.

About LatinoJustice PRLDEF

LatinoJustice PRLDEF (“LatinoJustice”) works to create a more just society by using and challenging the rule of law to secure transformative, equitable and accessible justice, by fostering leadership through advocacy and education, and by empowering the Pan-Latinx community in the areas of education, voting rights, immigrant rights, economic justice, and criminal justice reform. Since its inception nearly five decades ago, LatinoJustice has championed the rights of low-income students, particularly Latinx students, to receive a high-quality education.

About Children’s Law Center of Massachusetts

The Children’s Law Center of Massachusetts (“CLCM”) is a nonprofit legal aid organization founded in 1977. Its mission is to promote and secure equal justice and to maximize opportunity for low-income and systems-involved children and youth by providing quality, culturally sensitive, advocacy, and legal services. CLCM provides comprehensive legal representation and related assistance to public school students in a range of education matters, including special education, enrollment, and school discipline matters, while also advocating for systemic policy change on the district and state levels.

List of Amici Curiae

  • Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
  • LatinoJustice PLRDEF
  • Children’s Law Center of Massachusetts
  • American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts
  • Autism Sprinter
  • Center for Law and Education
  • Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race & Justice at Harvard Law School
  • Citizens for Public Schools
  • EdVestors
  • GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders (GLAD)
  • Greater Boston Association of Black Social Workers
  • Harvard Legal Aid Bureau
  • Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU)
  • Hispanic Federation
  • Jamaica Plain Progressives
  • Mass Insight Education & Research
  • Massachusetts Advocates for Children
  • Massachusetts Appleseed Center for Law and Justice
  • Northeastern University School of Law, Center for Health Policy and Law
  • Progressive West Roxbury/Roslindale
  • Quality Education for Every Student (QUEST)
  • Roslindale is for Everyone (RISE)
  • VISIONS, Inc.