Judge looking to rule on exam school lawsuit by April 15

A federal judge said on Tuesday that he hopes to rule by April 15 on a lawsuit challenging the Boston School Committee’s system for selecting exam-school students without exams.

The timing of the ruling would allow for students to get notified of their selection this spring or might order officials to quickly come up with a new way of selecting students for the schools before the fall.

At the Tuesday hearing, US District Court Judge William Young told lawyers for the three sides in the case that Boston school kids deserve to know where they will be going to school next fall.

The three parties include a group of white and Asian-American parents who claim the system now in place discriminates against them; the Boston Public Schools (BPS); and a coalition of groups led by the local NAACP branch who mostly support BPS. The white and Asian-American parents sued BPS.

Citing Covid-19, the School Committee last fall approved a system for 2021-2022 by which the first 20 percent of seats at Boston Latin School, Boston Latin Academy, and the John D. O’Bryant School would be offered to students with the highest pre-Covid grades in BPS, charter, private and religious schools. The remaining 80 percent would be offered in rounds based on grades in individual Zip codes, starting with those Zip codes with the lowest median incomes for families with at least one child under 18 - an effort to help low-income students whose families have been hit particularly hard by the pandemic.

Young gave all sides in the case until April 2 to file their written arguments. He said he would then schedule oral arguments for the following week, which would give him time to write an order.

Attorneys for BPS and the NAACP said that depending on what the lawyers for the White and Asian-American parents file, they might want to file statements by experts on the reasons to use the Zip-code-based plan this year.

Young reminded the attorneys that he’s not hearing the case in a vacuum, because school racial issues are not new in Boston and he has already begun research on the case.

But he cautioned that that would mean he’d need to extend the date for his deadline past April 15 to consider them, and he will be reluctant to do that, because the students have a right to know what school they’ll be attending in the fall, as do their parents.

He noted that he is also mindful of the potential stress on BPS officials who might have to draw up completely new assignment plans on short notice. Those officials, he said, already have “the very difficult job of serving Boston’s school children.”

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