Update Re: Challenges to School Integration in Virginia

Via NCSD’s April 2022 newsletter.

“The Board is aware of no decision of any appellate court — and the Coalition has cited none — holding that public education authorities violate the Equal Protection Clause by adopting race-neutral student admissions criteria in order to promote increased socioeconomic and racial diversity.”

–Donald Verrilli, Jr.
Representing the Fairfax County School Board attorney(and former U.S. Solicitor General) in response to an emergency request from the Coalition for TJ et al to ask the Supreme Court to put a stay on the 4th Circuit’s ruling

“Every student has a right to a fair shot at receiving an excellent education, regardless of their income, where they grew up, or their racial and ethnic background. But for well over a decade, the TJ admission process failed to identify all Black, Latino, and underserved Asian American students with the aptitude to excel. It would have been a serious mistake — and, as the court’s order notes, contrary to Supreme Court precedent — to allow this fairer system to be enjoined.”

Statement by NAACP Legal Defense Fund,
Asian Americans Advancing Justice,
and Latino Justice PRLDEF in response to 4th Circuit ruling

On April 25th, the Supreme Court rejected a request for emergency relief from the Coalition for TJ to stop Thomas Jefferson High School administrators from using a new admissions policy for TJ’s Class of 2026. The request had been joined by Virginia Attorney General Jason S. Miyares and Republican attorneys general from 15 states.


As described in the New York Times, the most well-known case currently challenging admissions changes at competitive schools is Coalition for TJ v. Fairfax County School Board. The plaintiffs in the case claim that non-race-based criteria (such as reducing reliance on test scores) at Thomas Jefferson High School, intended to achieve greater racial diversity in the student body, are subject to strict scrutiny under the 14th Amendment because of a foreseeable reduction in the percentage of students in one or more racial/ethnic groups (in this case, Asian-American students).

Previously, a federal judge in the Eastern District of Virginia agreed with the plaintiffs, finding that the Fairfax County School Board acted with discriminatory intent in its efforts to increase the representation of Black and Latino students at Thomas Jefferson. As a result, the judge enjoined school administrators from using the policy. On appeal, a Fourth Circuit panel granted a stay of the ruling, allowing implementation of the new admissions policy to go forward.

Why Does It Matter?

The original decision from the Eastern District of Virginia federal court is very troubling since the school district was following the Supreme Court’s 2007 majority opinion from the Parents Involved case in its efforts to increase racial diversity at the school (for example, allocating a significant number of seats to the highest-ranking students at each feeder middle school in the region and eliminating test scores as the deciding factor in awarding seats to the remaining applicants).

The Supreme Court’s refusal to stop the enactment of the policy while this case is under appeal is promising. However, the Supreme Court might eventually hear the case and issue a new standard for how public schools go about achieving racial and socioeconomic diversity. The Supreme Court is preparing to consider challenges to the holistic affirmative action programs at Harvard and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. A decision in those cases, though governed by a different set of legal precedents, could have an effect on diversity efforts in K-12 schools.

Related News:

  • Divided Supreme Court Allows Selective High School’s Diversity Policy by Greg Stohr (Bloomberg, April 25) – “’This court has long recognized that seeking to improve diversity — including geographic, socioeconomic, and racial diversity — is not the same as pursuing racial balancing, and that the former goal may be pursued through race-neutral methods,’ the school board argued.”

NCSD Policy Update: Lots of news this past month!

Via NCSD’s March 2022 newsletter.

The new Magnet Schools Assistance Program (MSAP) funding notice was released in the Federal Register, and it includes some important diversity-related provisions – a strong focus on supporting voluntary or mandatory desegregation plans, encouraging inter-district and whole school magnets, and coordination with housing and transportation agencies (including HUD’s public housing redevelopment programs).

Senator Chris Murphy and Representative Joe Courtney (both of Connecticut) released the “Magnet Schools Accessibility, Growth, and Non-exclusionary Enrollment Transformation Act of 2022,” which would increase magnet school funding and lock in many of the strong policy elements in the current funding notice (or “NOFA”) that the Department of Education has the discretion to include, but which other administrations have the discretion to ignore. The proposed bill would also include a supplemental funding stream for continuation funding of magnet schools that perform well in achieving the program’s goals. See what Magnet Schools of America had to say about the bill.

The 2022 budget was passed in both the Senate and House, with a $15 million increase in MSAP funding (to $124 million).

Although the Fostering Diverse Schools grants did not make it into the final FY 22 budget bill, Congress instructed (see pg. 123) the Department to prioritize capacity building and technical assistance funds under the Student Support and Academic Enrichment Program (SSAE) to state and local educational agencies (SEAs and LEAs) seeking to create and sustain integration. We were also happy to see Fostering Diverse Schools in the FY 23 budget request (see pg. 58)…stay tuned!

RB 15: Do School Choice Programs Contribute to the Resegregation of American Schools (April 2022)

NCSD’s newest research brief, authored by Casey Cobb, summarizes research about the effects of school choice programs and their differential designs on school diversity.
Main takeaway: “[T]he evidence shows that if school choice programs cannot or do not pay attention to social class and race, they generally increase segregation among schools. That is, racially and ethnically diverse schools become less diverse under unregulated choice plans. Parents who enjoy social and economic advantages manage to maintain those advantages, especially in unregulated school choice programs. School choice policies consistently provide an advantage to the dominant cultural group (Cobb & Irizarry, 2020).” 

Commentary: Coalition For TJ v. Fairfax County School Board

Via NCSD’s February 2022 newsletter.

As the Supreme Court prepares to consider challenges to the holistic affirmative action programs at Harvard and UNC, the Pacific Legal Foundation continues to wage an aggressive attack on school integration in the lower courts, including challenging efforts to promote racial diversity at selective high schools.

As described recently in the New York Times, the most well-known of these cases challenge admissions changes at the competitive Thomas Jefferson High School in Alexandria, VA. The case claims that non-race-based criteria (such as reducing reliance on test scores) intended to achieve greater racial diversity in the student body are subject to strict scrutiny under the 14th Amendment, because of a foreseeable reduction in the percentage of students in one or more racial/ethnic groups (in this case, Asian-American students).

Last week, a federal judge in the Eastern District of Virginia agreed with the plaintiffs, finding that the Fairfax County School Board acted with discriminatory intent in its efforts to increase the representation of Black and Latino students at Thomas Jefferson.

The decision is very troubling since the school district was following the Supreme Court’s 2007 majority opinion from the Parents Involved case in its efforts to increase racial diversity at the school (for example, allocating a significant number of seats to the highest-ranking students at each feeder middle school in the region and eliminating test scores as the deciding factor in awarding seats to the remaining applicants).


The recently-elected governor of Virginia has also supported proposed legislation that would potentially prevent VA school districts from using the measures specifically endorsed by Justice Kennedy in the Parents Involved decision (zoning, recruitment, school construction, etc.) if they can be shown to be pretextual for considerations of race. Read the bill here.


NCSD member organization NAACP LDF joined Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC), LatinoJustice PRLDEF, the Virginia NAACP, Hamkae Center, Asian American LEAD (AALEAD), CASA Virginia, Hispanic Federation, and the TJ Alumni for Racial Justice to release a statement in reaction to the recent developments in the case (excerpt below):

“Contrary to binding precedent, today’s erroneous decision by the Court uses the Equal Protection clause to cement pre-existing inequalities and hinder school districts from removing unfair barriers to opportunity for many Black, Latinx, and underserved Asian American students in direct conflict with the very purpose of the Equal Protection Clause. Such measures are not anti-Asian, and, in fact, benefit Asian American students. Indeed, all students benefit from a system that promotes fair opportunities for all. The court’s decision will harm underprivileged students of color. It also essentially stymies school districts from addressing known problems of equal educational access with race-neutral efforts. As racial justice advocates, we will continue to support race-neutral policies that better ensure equal educational opportunities consistent with the Equal Protection Clause.”

We will be watching these developments closely.

Funding Opportunities from the Department of Education

Equity Assistance Centers

The Department of Education (ED) issued a notice inviting applications for FY 2022 for the Equity Assistance Centers. Funded by the U.S. Department of Education under Title IV of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, Equity Assistance Centers (EACs) provide assistance in the areas of race, gender, national origin, and religion to public school districts to promote equal educational opportunities.

  • Deadline for Transmittal of Applications: May 16, 2022
  • Deadline for Intergovernmental Review: July 15, 2022

Magnet Schools Assistance Programs

The Department also issued a notice inviting applications for the Magnet Schools Assistance Program (MSAP). MSAP funds the development of magnet schools with special curricula that are capable of attracting diverse groups of students. Projects must be designed to provide innovative educational practices, increased choices for families, equitable access for all students to academic knowledge and skills, and reduced levels of isolation among minority groups within schools, among other features. ED expects to award 35-40 grants of up to $15 million over a five-year period.

  • Deadline for Transmittal of Applications: April 25, 2022
  • Deadline for Intergovernmental Review: July 7, 2022

Comment Letter: NCSD Urges CRDC Improvements

Nearly 40 organizations and individuals joined us in calling for improvements to CRDC’s ability “to monitor and support the implementation of holistic school desegregation plans.”

Improving federal civil rights data collection would support desegregation efforts, increase accountability in school districts under desegregation orders, reduce legal uncertainty for those districts, and assist research into school integration. This has been a long-term goal of NCSD, as mentioned in our 2019 policy agenda.
“While the Civil Rights Data Collection provides crucial data on discriminatory policies, practices, and resource disparities, it has strayed from one of its original purposes, to monitor and support the implementation of holistic school desegregation plans.”

NCSD Seeking Law/Policy/Organizing Fellow

Education Law/Policy/Organizing Fellowship
National Coalition on School Diversity
Washington, D.C. (Currently Remote and/or Hybrid)

This fellowship offers a 2022 JD graduate the opportunity to work for one year with the National Coalition on School Diversity (NCSD), which is housed at the Washington-DC based Poverty & Race Research Action Council (PRRAC). The fellowship is open to JD students graduating in May 2022.

The National Coalition on School Diversity is seeking a Law/Policy/Organizing Fellow to assist NCSD with: outreach, organizing, and network-building efforts; analysis and development of federal, state, and/or local education policies; and legislative and administrative advocacy. The Law/Policy/Organizing Fellow will play a critical role in advancing NCSD’s policy goals by connecting local stakeholders/activists, advocates, and scholars with federal, state, and local policymakers (and one another). The fellow will work closely with NCSD staff, including its communications staff, to strengthen NCSD’s advocacy by effectively elevating lived experiences and research evidence; centering and amplifying youth voices; increasing the visibility of local and state efforts; and building authentic, reciprocal relationships between advocates, scholars, and grassroots stakeholders/activists (primarily students, parents, and educators). This is a great opportunity for recent graduates looking to weave together interests and skills in legal/policy advocacy, grassroots organizing, educational justice, and communications.

Founded in 2009, the National Coalition on School Diversity (NCSD) is a cross-sector network of 50+ national civil rights organizations, university-based research centers, and state and local coalitions working to expand support for school integration across the United States. NCSD functions as the main hub of the school integration movement, supporting its members in designing, enacting, implementing, and uplifting PK-12 public school integration policies and practices. NCSD is housed at the Poverty & Race Research Action Council (PRRAC), a civil rights policy organization based in Washington, DC. PRRAC’s primary mission is to help connect advocates with social scientists working on race and poverty issues, and to develop innovative approaches to structural inequality issues. PRRAC’s work explores the causes and consequences of housing and school segregation, and emphasizes the development of appropriate remedial strategies.

Qualifications: The fellowship is open to JD students graduating in May 2022. The ideal candidate for this position would have exceptional written and oral communication skills, including the ability to communicate effectively and creatively across different constituencies (e.g. policy experts, media, and students/parents/educators). This is a new position at NCSD, and the selected fellow will have a role in shaping it. To be most successful, therefore, the fellow must be: proactive; a strategic and creative thinker; able to work well both independently and collaboratively; and committed to forming relationships with our member organizations and partners. The ideal candidate will: have prior experience working with youth, parents, and/or educators and/or as an organizer; be passionate about educational equity, school integration, youth leadership, racial justice, and systemic change; possess the ability to effectively situate their own experiences within the education system and articulate their connection to NCSD’s work in a compelling way; enjoy building networks, conducting outreach, and engaging and relating with people; have demonstrated capacity to effectively facilitate trainings and group processes; and deeply believe in the importance of cross-racial/cross-class/cross-generational work. Familiarity with and desire to actively apply movement law, critical race theory, reproductive justice, and other frameworks is a plus. A law degree at the time of employment is required. The position would be primarily supervised by NCSD’s Director, Gina Chirichigno, and PRRAC’s Executive Director, Philip Tegeler.

COVID-19: PRRAC has been working remotely, with some staff voluntarily coming into the office a couple days a week. We will be reevaluating this policy in 2022 and expect that there will be a shift back to a more frequent in-office presence. All staff are required to provide proof of COVID-19 vaccination. This position is based in Washington, DC. 

Application: Applicants must submit a resume, brief statement of interest, two references (one academic and one character/personal, e.g. a mentor, peer, or former supervisor), and two relevant writing samples. Materials should be submitted to Gina Chirichigno at gchirichigno@prrac.org (or through your law school’s application system, if applicable). Applications will be reviewed on a rolling basis.


The National Coalition on School Diversity happily considers requests to host individuals for fellowships, where the projects align with our areas of expertise and the fellow is able to identify their own outside source of funding.

This includes current law students from any ABA-accredited law school seeking a postgraduate fellowship that is partially or fully funded by an external source, such as a Skadden fellowship, Equal Justice Works, Justice Catalyst, Soros, or a program funded by your school.

If you would like to explore potential opportunities, please contact Gina Chirichigno at gchirichigno@prrac.org. 

NCSD Leads Comment Letter to Retain Critical School Diversity Funding in FY 2022 Budget

Over 70+ organizations and individuals joined NCSD’s recent letter urging Congress to retain funding for the Fostering Diverse Schools program in the FY 22 budget (following up on a similar letter we sent to Congress in April 2021).

The Fostering Diverse Schools program would provide $100 million for a voluntary grant program that states and school districts could apply for to help reduce racial and socioeconomic isolation in their schools. It is modeled after the Strength in Diversity Act, which passed the House of Representatives on a bipartisan basis in the 116th Congress.

Join us in advocating for Fostering Diverse Schools. Find some basic talking points here, and contact your legislators this week!

We also submitted a letter requesting that the House bring the Strength in Diversity Act (H.R. 729) to the floor for a vote.

In Memoriam: Lani Guinier

john a. powell, Othering & Belonging Institute
Lani was a close friend. I loved her mind and her. Through her work and life, she offers insight to both better understand our society and to begin to repair it. She is well known for her powerful work in voting and merit. She helped us begin to see the limits of majority rule and how we could have a voting system for institutionalized tyranny. She reminded us that saving the canary in the coal mine was about fixing the air in the mine for all of us. One of her most profound writings is demanding not just reading but studying her work on racial literacy and rejection of racial liberalism. in From Racial Liberalism to Racial Literacy she uses the limits of Brown to help us understand the complexity of race and its relationship to class and geography, she also demonstrates the failure to take seriously the needs and interests of poor white too easily lead to a racial backlash and polarization. Thank you Lani. We will miss you and continue to learn from you.

Elise Boddie, Rutgers,  Institute for the Study of Global Racial Justice
Lani Guinier was a visionary “small d” democrat. She was legendary in voting rights circles, but her insights about the centrality of democracy to equality and opportunity extended well beyond voting. Her writings challenged us to think broadly about how institutions could promote democracy outside the structures of formal representation. For example, she sought to redefine “merit” by urging colleges and universities to admit students who would become engaged citizens and public-minded leaders. She argued that problems of racial injustice were a “canary in the mine” — a silent warning about systemic ills that damage the lives of so many and how repairing them would help to mend broader social fault lines. She also pushed for democracy in the law school classroom by confronting gendered instructional norms that disproportionately privileged men and silenced women. Lani Guinier was not only a brilliant lawyer and scholar; she was also a champion of democracy and a champion for people.

Susan Eaton, Sillerman Center for the Advancement of Philanthropy
More than two decades ago, I scanned the small audience gathered at Harvard for a reading from my first solo-authored book. I am not always an anxious speaker, but to spot THE Lani Guinier in the second row, made my hands shake. I’d seen Professor Guinier command audiences with equal amounts intellectual gravitas and effortless charm. I’d watched her (good-naturedly) smash opponents in debates over affirmative action. I tried to read everything she wrote. I tried to write like her. After the reading, she stood in line to compliment me more generously than I suppose I felt I deserved because I had to hold back tears. We agreed to meet the following week. But after that first meeting in her office, with her wit and wisdom, our areas of disagreement, and her family photos all freely shared, she made me feel seen and valued rather than terrified. Over two decades, Lani would continue to wow me, to enthrall me and while we would never become personally close, she was always an important model for me. Several years after that reading, Lani and I would join a week-long education equity working group of a dozen or so education and legal scholars at Stanford University. Having no patience for the jargon and vagueness that permeates education-related discourse, she tore apart our words, our metaphors, our half-baked arguments, sometimes interrupting a speaker mid-sentence. It could be annoying at times, especially for academics comfy with their insider language. But Lani disarmed us with humor and imbued the group with a sense of mission, so that together, we could select exactly the right words and craft the most effective agenda-moving strategy. I think we all came to see that it wasn’t persnicketiness, but an aspiration to get to some kind of useful truth together that drove her. Lani didn’t know it, but merely by watching and reading her, by being open to her criticism and believing her praise, just by being in rooms with her, she made me a profoundly better thinker, writer, teacher, and mentor

In Memoriam: Dr. Charles V. Willie by Michael J. Alves w/ Reflections from John Brittain & Richard Kahlenberg

My dear friend and colleague, Dr. Charles V. Willie, the Charles Eliot Professor Emeritus at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and a champion of equitable school desegregation, passed away on January 11, 2021, at the age of 94. As documented in his recent obituary in the Boston Globe, Chuck’s life was filled with extraordinary accomplishments and his “unconditional” love for his family, students, and even those fellow scholars and desegregation experts who did not always agree with him.

Chuck’s commitment to “justice and equality” was rooted and instilled by his parents during his upbringing in the segregated city of Dallas Texas. Chuck was also greatly influenced by his friend and classmate at Morehouse College, Martin Luther King. And Chuck carried his passion and faith for justice into the hierarchy of the Episcopal Church when he championed the righteous cause of the church ordaining women priests.

My decision to ask Dr. Willie to be my advisor was based on his longstanding belief and commitment to desegregation and his real experience as a desegregation activist and staunch advocate for justice and fairness that included his service as a court-appointed Master by Judge Arthur W. Garrity in the Boston desegregation case. Chuck’s role as a Master in the Boston case and his advocacy for magnet schools along with his fellow Master Francis Kepple who was a former Dean at HGSE and President Kennedy’s U.S. Commissioner of Education, helped to inspire the creation of the Cambridge choice plan which sought to make all schools magnetic desegregating schools of choice.

Under the Cambridge Plan, the District abolished all of its school attendance boundaries and made all of its thirteen K-8 schools desegregating schools of choice. The most controversial elements of the Plan were instituting universal public school choice and allowing all the students that would be enrolled in grades 1-8 the following school year to remain in their assigned schools with only the newly enrolling Kindergarten and students seeking to voluntary transfer subject to desegregation, which was defined as a +/- 5% white and racial minority variance from the District as a whole. This so-called “grandfathering” provision was a key element in the Plan that defused community conflict and preempted the kind of white and middle-class flight that plagued the Boston Public Schools.

Despite the universal choice plan’s success in Cambridge, there was considerable doubt among civil rights lawyers and desegregation experts that such a student assignment plan would ever work elsewhere given the fact that Cambridge, Massachusetts was perceived as an ultra-liberal city of just 6 square miles with only one high school and thirteen K-8 grammar schools that had a pro-desegregation State Department of Education.

My professional collaboration with Dr. Willie as co-desegregation planners officially began in 1985 when we designed what we called a “controlled choice” student assignment plan for the Plaintiffs in the San Jose federal desegregation case that was based primarily on the Cambridge choice plan. The challenge in San Jose was the geographic size and elongated configuration of the District that enrolled nearly 30,000 students from grades K-12 in six high schools, seven middle schools, and 23 elementary schools, which was demonstrably different from Cambridge.

In response to these challenges, we subdivided the San Jose Unified School District into three contiguous and demographically equivalent K-12 school choice attendance zones with five districtwide magnet schools. The plan grandfathered students into their assigned schools and required that all newly enrolling students in Kindergarten, Grade 6, and Grade 9, which were the entry-grades for the Districts’ elementary, middle, and high schools, and students seeking to transfer to another school be assigned to a desegregating school of choice in their zone or to a districtwide magnet school. Parents could select at least three schools by ranked preference and all assignments would be made to achieve a +/- 5% desegregation variance. The plan was approved by the federal court and later enabled the District to achieve unitary status.

The success of the San Jose “controlled choice” plan launched a 25-year collaboration between Willie and Alves as co-desegregation planners that resulted in the development of race-conscious, controlled-choice desegregation and school improvement plans in numerous school districts throughout the United States including Little Rock AK, Seattle WA, Boston MA, St. Lucie FL, Milwaukee WI, Lee County FL, Brockton MA, and Rockford IL. Our journey also included an innovative socioeconomic desegregation plan for Charleston SC and the honor of serving as the original desegregation planning experts for John Britain and his legal team in the Sheff inter-district magnet schools state desegregation case in Connecticut.

Together we authored two books: Controlled Choice: A New Approach to Desegregated Education and School Improvement in 1996 and Student Diversity, Choice, and School Improvement in 2002 with our colleague Ralph Edwards as well as numerous reports and journal articles. While Dr. Willie achieved a great legacy in promoting desegregation plans that were simultaneously effective, fair, and educationally sound and he was a true believer in the power of unconditional love, he was exasperated by the Supreme Court’s gutting of our race-conscious controlled choice in Seattle in 2008, twenty-two years after it was voluntarily approved and successfully implemented. He was equally exasperated when a new Mayoral appointed Boston School Committee effectively dismantled our inherently fair and educationally progressive controlled choice plan in 2001.

Despite these setbacks, the legacy of Charles Willie will live on for the believers in justice and fairness for all school children and their families. Although the Supreme Court has attempted to undermine Chuck’s advocacy for racial desegregation, his legacy lives on through the development of racially desegregative multifaceted controlled choice socioeconomic student assignment plans that are currently being implemented throughout the country that include the new Sheff multifaceted socioeconomic inter-district student desegregation plan that is being implemented in Connecticut.

Finally on a personal note, I will always remember the true essence of Charles Willie when he sang the iconic song Nature Boy as a blessing for me and my wife Ann at our wedding with the eternally true final lyric “The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return.”

Godspeed, dear friend.


John C. Brittain: As a law professor and civil rights lawyer who worked with Dr. Charles “Chuck” Willie as an expert in school desegregation cases, including the Connecticut landmark Sheff v. O’Neill case where Dr. Willie testified in the trial, I highly applaud his tremendous achievements in school equality. However, I choose to honor the legacy of Dr. Willie who fought for equality in The Episcopal Church.

As an African American, I grew up in a high Episcopal Church in Norwalk, Connecticut serving as an acolyte and thurifer who swung the canister filled with smoke from burning incense during services. The churches were nearly all-White throughout the New England states. However, during my matriculation at Howard University from 1962 (BA) to 1969 (JD), I learned to appreciate the civil rights struggle within the Episcopal Church featuring Reverend Pauli Murray, the first ordained Black female priest in 1977, whom I first met at Howard Law School, and Reverend Quinland Gordon, a Black office holder on the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church, who married my wife and I.

The work of Dr. Willie and many Episcopalians paved the way to The Episcopal Church to elect Michael Curry, the first African American presiding bishop in 2015. May God bless you, Chuck.

Richard Kahlenberg: Chuck Willie always believed in his bones that the cause of racial and economic school desegregation is just. And because it is just, he thought it was incumbent on everyone to figure out ways to make it a reality by reducing political opposition. Willie and his colleague Michael Alves came up with a brilliant answer to the unpopularity of compulsory bussing: marry the attractive idea of public school choice to equity goals. Thousands of school children are better off because of this shrewd innovation and many more will be if additional school districts adopt their approach.