Victory on Boston’s Selective Public Schools

Coronavirus, Education, Racial Justice


In a decision issued on April 15, 2021, Judge William G. Young of the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts soundly rejected efforts by a group seeking to overturn the Boston Public Schools’ Interim Plan for determining admission to Boston’s highly-selective public schools, which was implemented in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

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 successfully intervened in the lawsuit and argued that a school district may address a legacy of de facto segregation without running afoul of the Constitution. Judge Young echoed many of these sentiments in his 48-page decision.

“This ruling is a historic victory, not only for students and families across Boston, but for those across the country who have been in the fight to ensure greater justice and equity across our public education system. In this case, our intervention and the amici made way for the voices and experiences of our neighbors facing the greatest barriers to educational access to be heard and to prevail. By upholding the thoughtful and intentional admissions criteria that were the subject of this lawsuit, Judge Young has helped to ensure that during the COVID 19 pandemic, every student in Boston has access to some of the most selective schools in our city. We will continue to work with our diverse coalition, Boston families and the Boston Public School system to help build and fortify a more inclusive Boston Public Schools for all of our children, said Tanisha M. Sullivan, President of Boston Branch of the NAACP

“This decision means that all students and families, including those who are the most vulnerable, have more equitable access to education. We will continue to work with all of our partners across communities in this fight for education equity,” said Carolyn Chou, Executive Director of Asian American Resource Workshop and Steering Committee member of the Asian Pacific Islander Civic Action Network.

Of particular note, Judge William Young observed that the Interim Plan, which was crafted in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and utilizes a combination of grade point average and zip code to allocate seats in Boston’s highly selective schools to the city’s middle and high school students, is a “bold attempt to address America’s caste system” and noted that Boston’s “richly varied cultural heritage” made it “all the more appropriate” to draw the schools’ “entering class from every corner of the city.”  

“Black, Latinx, and Asian American families have long faced language barriers and discrimination in accessing public schools,” said Janet Vo, Staff Attorney in Greater Boston Legal Services’ Asian Outreach Unit. “Students and families throughout Boston will benefit from greater diversity across the board as a result of this decision.” 

Throughout the decision, Judge Young sharply criticized the plaintiff’s legal analysis, noting that their argument that any consideration of race by the School Committee and Working Group was unconstitutional was “contrary to controlling precedent.” Instead, Judge Young observed that the Equal Protection Clause is “not a bulwark for the status quo”; the plaintiff cannot plead a constitutional violation when a school district engages in the “laudable endeavor” of seeking to improve racial, socioeconomic, and geographic diversity. 

“We are overjoyed with the decision issued by Judge Young. The decision represents a substantial step towards educational equity for all students in Boston. Students will greatly benefit from this decision which will provide an opportunity for greater geographic, socioeconomic, and racial diversity from every corner of Boston,” said Doreen Rachal, Counsel at Sidley Austin LLP.

“It is entirely unsurprising that the Court saw through the plaintiff’s legally and factually unsupported case,” said Lauren Sampson, Staff Attorney at Lawyers for Civil Rights and co-counsel to intervenors. “Their position—that the fight for equity is somehow violative of the Constitution—has no basis in our law. We are pleased that today, Boston can move one step closer to remedying its undisputed legacy of exclusion, and discrimination.” 

“We are pleased with Judge Young’s decision confirming that BPS’ Interim Plan for its selective school admissions is both rational and constitutional, as well as with the decision’s positive implications for students in all of our city’s unique and diverse communities,” said Susan Finegan, Member and Chair of the Pro Bono Committee at Mintz.   

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

The decision is available here.