Judge: Boston exam schools admissions policy ‘race-neutral’

BOSTON — A federal judge has upheld a temporary admissions policy at Boston’s elite exam high schools, ruling against a parent group that said in a lawsuit it discriminated against white and Asian students.

“This court finds and rules that the plan is race-neutral and that neither the factors used nor the goal of greater diversity qualifies as a racial classification,” Judge William Young wrote in the ruling released Thursday night.

In his SJC decision, Judge Young says Boston’s 1-year plan to use grades and zip code to admit students to its coveted exam schools isn’t perfect, but it’s not discriminatory. The school committee approved the interim policy intending to open more seats to Black and Latinx applicants.

The plan will allow 80 percent of seats to students with the top grades in their ZIP codes.

The Boston School Committee last fall temporarily dropped the entrance exam for Boston Latin School, Boston Latin Academy, and the O’Bryant School of Math and Science because it was not safe to hold exams in-person during the pandemic.

Instead, the committee used student performance and ZIP code to weigh admission.

“‘We strongly believe that the decision is appropriate given the pandemic-related challenges that were faced by the school district, and this decision certainly paves the way for achieving equity,” said Doreen Rachal, the attorney filing an amicus brief in the case.

A group called the Boston Parent Coalition for Academic Excellence in a lawsuit filed in February on behalf of 14 white and Asian applicants called the new policy “wholly irrational.”

Robert Trestan, Anti-Defamation League of Massachusetts, says, “The data shows that increased diversity reduces prejudice, bias, and stereotypes.”

William Hurd, an attorney for the coalition, said there will be an appeal.

“We respectfully disagree with the court’s decision,” Hurd said in a statement.

The Boston Public Schools in a statement said its goal has always been to “ensure a safe, fair, and equitable exam school admissions process.”

The ruling applies only to the current exam cycle.

Within hours of the court’s decision, the group filed an immediate appeal. Boston 25 did reach out for comment and have not heard back yet.