Victory! Federal Appeals Court Rejects Attempt to Hold Up School Decisions

Coronavirus, Education, Racial Justice


In a unanimous decision issued on April 28, 2021, the Chief Judge and two Circuit Judges of the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit rejected an eleventh-hour attempt by a group seeking to halt the extension of invitations to Boston’s highly-selective public schools. The Court’s ruling reaffirmed the policy put forward by the Boston School Committee – and supported by a diverse group of organizations and stakeholders across the city – in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The plaintiff’s attempt to persuade the First Circuit to block the release of decisions pending their appeal was soundly rejected, as the appellate court determined there was a low likelihood the group would succeed on appeal. 

The Boston Branch of the NAACP, the Greater Boston Latino Network, the Asian Pacific Islanders Civic Action Network (APIs CAN), the Asian American Resource Workshop (AARW), and two families of color, who successfully intervened in the lawsuit, welcomed the ruling, which helps ensure more equitable access to Boston’s highly selective public schools and avoids further delays and uncertainty for hundreds of families across the city, who have already been waiting for decisions for months. 

“We are pleased that the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit has denied the plaintiff’s motion for emergency injunctive relief.  We continue to strongly believe that US District Court Judge William Young’s ruling is correct,” said Tanisha Sullivan, President of NAACP Boston Branch. “The admissions process put in place as a result of the pandemic for Boston’s highly selective schools is a fair and thoughtful policy that benefits all of Boston’s students. It is now time to shift our collective attention away from court challenges, and towards ensuring that all of our children have the support they need to thrive academically as we pursue an equitable recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic in the City of Boston.” 

“Families have been waiting anxiously for results. We are pleased with the Court’s decision today,” said Carolyn Chou, Executive Director of Asian American Resource Workshop and Steering Committee member of the Asian Pacific Islander Civic Action Network. “Beyond this legal case, the Asian American community will continue this fight alongside Black and Latinx communities for quality education for all students in Boston.”

The appellate panel quoted extensively from Judge Young’s lengthy and well-reasoned opinion, while criticizing the group for ignoring basic constitutional law. Importantly, the judges confirmed that a school district may employ a race-neutral attendance plan “implemented to promote diversity” without attracting strict judicial scrutiny. The judges also highlighted the Interim Plan’s focus on socioeconomic diversity, emphasizing that the Interim Plan can identify students who achieve academic success “without the resources available to those who are capable for paying for summer schooling, tutoring, and the like.”  

“We are pleased, although not surprised, by the panel’s decision,” said Lauren Sampson, Staff Attorney at Lawyers for Civil Rights and counsel to Intervenors. “Time and time again, the parent group refused to put forward statistical evidence or controlling caselaw to support their position, preferring to rest on innuendo and speculation. This powerful opinion signals that their appeal stands little chance of success.” 

Remarkably, the appellate panel called out the hypocrisy of the group’s emergency request, noting that the group had been “sitting on its collective hands” for months after the Interim Plan was adopted before filing a lawsuit. Because delay would “unsettle [the] important expectations and plans of thousands” of families and students like those represented by Intervenors, the court determined that the public interest was best served by allowing BPS to finalize and send out admissions decisions based on the Interim Plan.  BPS released those decisions shortly before the end of the day on April 28. 

“This opinion signifies the value of diversity in the education setting” said Janet Vo, Staff Attorney in Greater Boston Legal Services’ Asian Outreach Unit. “We need to continue dismantling the language and socioeconomic barriers for all students.”

“Today marks another important milestone in this case, which has far-reaching implications regarding equal opportunity for students in Boston,” said Susan Finegan, Member and Chair of the Pro Bono Committee at Mintz.  “We remain confident in the strength of our arguments and in our belief that the First Circuit will uphold Judge Young’s sound ruling.”

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

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