Two years ago, the Association for Education Fairness, a parents’ group, filed lawsuits against the school system arguing that it was illegally using race as an admissions factor in its efforts to increase racial diversity in magnetic programs with revisions made before the 2018 school year.
The school system revised its policies again during the pandemic, ahead of the 2021-2022 school year, to shift to an admissions model that could be done virtually to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
The parent group updated its legal complaints against the system and argued that the new model continues to disadvantage Asian American students. They pointed to data that showed 35% of Asian American students had achieved the “highest level” of the Maryland state assessment, but only 24% of those students were placed in the programs. magnetic, according to the legal documents.
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As part of the dismissal the judge noted that Asian American students maintained a “strong representation in magnetic programs relative to their makeup in the applicant pool.” The judge also noted that there was little evidence the latest admissions process was designed to favor one racial group over another.
“We are disappointed with the outcome and will be discussing next steps with our client in the coming days,” said Christopher Kieser, one of the attorneys at the Pacific Legal Foundation, which represents the group of Asian American parents who filed the complaint.
Montgomery County Public Schools spokesman Chris Cram said the school system is pleased with the federal district court’s decision to maintain the current admissions process and has “correctly found” that the school system followed the law.
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The school system has changed its admissions process next to a 2016 report that found stark disparities in enrollment and acceptance rates, with white and Asian students faring better than their black and Hispanic classmates.
The school system stopped relying on parent-initiated applications for magnet schools and instead universally screened its fifth graders. It reviewed each student’s report card grades and standardized test results, and invited half of the students to take a cognitive ability test — an in-person written assessment that measured students’ skills.
The revised process also took into consideration the candidates’ peer groups in their home schools. The idea is that students who have a large number of other gifted classmates at their home schools could meet for advanced lessons there, but gifted students without a large group of gifted peers at their school original may need to be placed in a magnetic program.
Parents who filed the legal complaints argued for home school peer group consideration underprivileged Asian students to receive magnetic school seats since they were clustered in a “relatively small number” of Montgomery elementary schools.
At the time, the 2018 enrollment figures for black and Hispanic/Latino students remained the same, according to the opinion. The following year, schools were designated as “low poverty, moderate poverty, or high poverty”; their scores were compared to other students who reflected the same socioeconomic status, a decision that has hurt Asian American students, parents say.
Enrollment of Asian American students declined during these years, but the number of Asian American students participating in magnetic programs “has always exceeded the percentage of Asian American representation in all MCPS County,” the judge wrote in the ruling last week.
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After the pandemic began in 2020, the school system began using a lottery selection system instead, as in-person testing could not be conducted. Any student who received an “A” in the relevant courses, read above a fourth-grade level, and achieved above a certain score on the state reading and math assessments was placed in the lottery pool. Students are selected from the pool until the magnet class reaches capacity.
Montgomery County Public Schools announced in 2021 that the process would be used for the foreseeable future.
In the ruling dismissing the lawsuit, Xinis wrote that the admissions plan put in place after the pandemic began was a “seemingly neutral admissions process that MCPS applied impartially.”
The decision follows another high-profile admissions case in the Washington area that reached the Supreme Court. In that case, Fairfax County school officials were sued after they revised admissions policies for the prestigious Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology which, according to administrators, opened the Magnet program to a wider socio-economic range of students. Opponents clamored for the new policy discrimination against Asian American applicants. In April, the Supreme Court ruled that the admissions process could remain in place as a legal battle continued.