Court ruling won't affect county magnet schools

Richmond County's magnet schools can continue to use race in their admissions policies - for now.

On Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against voluntary, race-based student assignment plans in Seattle and Louisville, Ky., school systems.

The ruling will not immediately affect Richmond County's magnet schools because of an ongoing court desegregation order, according to legal scholars. However, if Richmond County were to satisfy its desegregation order, admissions policies of the magnet schools might change.

Jimmy Atkins, president of the Richmond County Board of Education, would like to end the desegregation order.

"It would be an A-plus on the report card for the school system" if the board satisfied the court order in the next year, he said.

But there remains a substantial legal gray area - and disagreement among some legal scholars - regarding what may happen to magnet school admissions if the desegregation order is lifted.

Professor John A. Powell, executive director of the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity at Ohio State University, said that race-based admissions policies at magnet schools might stand on the legal ground provided by Justice Anthony Kennedy's opinion and that school systems can use race as a factor in limited circumstances.

Magnet schools might need to have factors other than race, or even race and fine arts audition scores, in their admissions policies, said Professor Gary Orfield, the co-director of the Civil Rights Project at UCLA.

Other legal experts said that it is too early to tell whether Richmond County's magnet schools would be able to keep their race-based admissions policies if the desegregation order is lifted.

The two cases the Supreme Court ruled on, Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1 and Meredith v. Jefferson County Board of Education, were argued in tandem in December.

In Seattle, the school district used race as a tie-breaking factor in some school assignments. A parents organization filed a lawsuit against the school system, charging that some students were unfairly denied admission to their schools of choice.

Reach Thomas Smyth at (706) 823-3224 or thomas.smyth@augustachronicle.com.