Intervention to Protect Diversity in Boston’s Exam Schools

Education, Racial Justice


The NAACP Boston Branch, the Greater Boston Latino Network (GBLN), the Asian Pacific Islanders Civic Action Network (APIs CAN), the Asian American Resource Workshop (AARW), and three families of color filed a motion to intervene in an eleventh-hour lawsuit brought by the so-called Boston Parent Coalition for Academic Excellence. The lawsuit purports to challenge the City’s inclusion of neighborhood equity in extending invitations for Boston’s highly selective public schools for the upcoming school year. The intervening community-based organizations have long advocated for reforms to the admissions model and public education system. They also have members whose children have outstanding applications to the highly selective public schools. They argue that the interim admissions process, a direct response to inequities exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, is the first small step towards remediating a history of exclusion and discrimination against Black, Latinx, low-income, and other underrepresented students. 

“History has shown us that when we begin to make progress toward our shared values, headwinds will try to come against us,” said Tanisha M. Sullivan, President of the NAACP Boston Branch, the lead intervenor.  “By joining forces to file this motion, we hope to send a clear message that we are resolute in our determination to fight for the promise of this City to provide all children, in every neighborhood, from every socio-economic background, with equitable access to our public schools.  We will not be deterred in our fight for justice.”  

“The highly selective public schools belong to all Bostonians regardless of race, class or zip code. Yet far too many children have already internalized the structural barriers that are all too real. All our children should have an opportunity to learn with — and from — each other. We urgently need to diversify and democratize access to the highly selective public schools,” said Beatriz Abascal, Coordinator of the Greater Boston Latino Network

“Every day, we check the mail with excitement to see if we have received an admissions offer. While talking about the highly selective public schools, [my son] told me that he doesn’t think he will be admitted because of our race and background. [My son] said to me that as a Latino, he felt he wouldn’t get a chance,” said one of the parents participating in the case who lives in the Cathedral Housing Development in Boston’s South End. 

This story could be matched many times over by Black, Latinx, and other diverse families who have never even heard of the selective public schools. 

That said, consideration of neighborhood representation is a necessary but insufficient means of countering other admissions criteria employed by BPS, which overwhelmingly favor wealthy, white students. As the motion outlines, BPS continues to rely heavily upon student GPAs, despite widespread evidence of grading inconsistencies between BPS and non-BPS schools and accusations of grade inflation at parochial and private schools. If grades are to be used, in the interest of fairness, there must be other factors considered to help address this issue.

Carolyn Chou, steering committee member of APIs CAN, an intervenor in the lawsuit, said, “Through our work with parents and students in public school systems, APIs CAN recognizes that racial inequity will continue so long as communities of color are pitted against each other. Though often not recognized, the socioeconomic experiences of Asian American vary greatly. Many BPS Asian students are children of restaurant, hotel, home care, and nail salon workers, and their families struggle with access to education.”

Although Asian Americans are often framed as high-achieving and “the model minority,” the community is not monolithic and education outcomes depend heavily on socioeconomic status and immigration history. But due to the model minority stereotype, the wealth and academic achievement of a few Asian Americans have hidden the reality of language barriers and other struggles for many Asian American students in BPS. 

“Asian Americans are intervening in this lawsuit because they fundamentally understand that the education experiences of all BPS students improve only if Black and Latinx communities have equal access,” said Bethany Li, Director of Greater Boston Legal Services’ Asian Outreach Project.

The motion for intervention asks the federal court to permit the community organizations and individual families to join the case as defendant-intervenors, defending the temporary admissions plan by making arguments about the district’s long history of discrimination, the benefits of diversity, and the dangers of over-reliance on supposedly objective measures like grades. 

“We must abandon any idea that so-called ‘objective measures,’ like GPAs or standardized test scores, are effectively identifying academically excellent students,” said Lauren Sampson, Staff Attorney at Lawyers for Civil Rights and counsel to the proposed intervenors. “As multiple studies have shown, BPS has continually employed admissions criteria that exclude high-achieving Black, Latinx, and other underrepresented students who would thrive in the rigorous environment of a highly selective public school.” 

Sidley Austin LLP, Lawyers for Civil Rights, and Greater Boston Legal Services are serving as counsel to the intervening organizations and families. 

A hearing on the plaintiff’s motion for a preliminary injunction is scheduled for 10 AM on Wednesday, March 3, 2021. 

Click here to download the FAQ.

Click here to download the brief.

Click here to download the motion to intervene.