Parents Involved in Comm. School v. Seattle School, No. C00-1205R.

CourtUnited States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Court (Western District of Washington)
Writing for the CourtRothstein
Citation137 F.Supp.2d 1224
PartiesPARENTS INVOLVED IN COMMUNITY SCHOOLS, a Washington non-profit corporation, Plaintiff, v. SEATTLE SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. 1, a political subdivision of the State of Washington; et al., Defendants.
Docket NumberNo. C00-1205R.
Decision Date06 April 2001
137 F.Supp.2d 1224
PARENTS INVOLVED IN COMMUNITY SCHOOLS, a Washington non-profit corporation, Plaintiff,
v.
SEATTLE SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. 1, a political subdivision of the State of Washington; et al., Defendants.
No. C00-1205R.
United States District Court, W.D. Washington, at Seattle.
April 6, 2001.

Page 1225

Harry James Franklyn Korrell, Daniel Benjamin Ritter, Davis Wright Tremaine LLP, Seattle, WA, for plaintiff.

Mark Stephen Green, Seattle School District # 1, Office of General Counsel, Seattle, WA, Carol Sue Janes, Michael Madden, Bennett Bigelow & Leedom PS, Seattle, WA, for defendants.

ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

ROTHSTEIN, District Judge.


I. BACKGROUND

For over thirty years the Seattle School District has made efforts to ameliorate the often pernicious consequences of the racial isolation in its schools that would, but for those efforts, track the racial segregation of the city's housing patterns. A majority of Seattle's white residents live in neighborhoods in the northern, historically more affluent end of the city. A majority of the city's African American, Asian American, Hispanic and Native American residents live in the south. Racial isolation in schools may render a child indifferent to the benefits and responsibilities incumbent on citizens of a pluralistic society. Racial isolation may also prevent a child from being exposed to much of the educational and socio-economic opportunity this nation promises.

Since the 1960's, while courts around the country were ordering intransigent school districts to desegregate, Seattle's school board was voluntarily exploring measures that were designed to provide all of the district's students with access to diverse and equal educational opportunities. At one time the district experimented with mandatory busing procedures that met with widespread dissatisfaction and even outrage. More recently, responding to its constituents' concerns, the school board has sought to develop less coercive policies that would afford parents and students more choice in selecting which high school to attend, while adhering to the principle that all of the district's students should have access to racially integrated schools of comparable quality. Over the past several decades, both Washington state and federal courts have, at every level, approved and even lauded the school board's continuing and evolving efforts to attain and maintain a desegregated system.

The school board has not yet achieved its ultimate goal of offering the best possible education in all of its high schools. Despite the district's efforts, it remains a stark reality that disproportionately, the schools located in the northern end of the city continue to be the most popular and prestigious, and competition for assignment to those schools is keen. The school board has decided that in order to afford all of the city's students—including those

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from predominantly minority south Seattle —access to these more popular schools, it must employ a tiebreaker mechanism that elevates race over proximity to determine who may attend these schools.

Since 1998, the Seattle School District has assigned students to its regular ten high schools according to an "open choice" policy, by which students throughout the district list which high school they would like to attend in order of preference. The district will assign the student, if possible, to the high school listed as his or her first choice. Five of the district's high schools, however — Ballard, Nathan Hale, Roosevelt, Franklin, and Garfield — are listed as a first choice by more students than they can accept.1 Approximately 82% of students entering high school in 2000 selected one of these five schools as a first choice. The school district allocates the available spaces in these oversubscribed high schools by using a series of tiebreakers. The first tiebreaker asks whether the student has a sibling already attending his or her first-choice school. For the stated purposes of "achieving diversity, limiting racial isolation, and providing an equal opportunity to receive a quality education," the district will, if necessary, use a second tiebreaker for those oversubscribed high schools that are racially "out of balance," selecting for placement students whose race will help mitigate the imbalance of the racial makeup of the chosen school. Defendants' Memo in Support of Partial Summary Judgment on State Law Claim at 2.

The school district has determined that a school is out of balance if it deviates by more than 15% from the overall racial breakdown of the population of students attending Seattle's public schools, which is currently approximately 40% white and 60% nonwhite.2 Of the oversubscribed high schools, only Garfield is currently considered in balance.3 The district estimates that without the integration tiebreaker, the nonwhite populations of the 2000-2001 ninth grade class at Franklin would be 79.2%; at Hale 30.5%; at Ballard 33%; and at Roosevelt 41.1%. Using the integration tiebreaker mechanism, the nonwhite populations of the same schools respectively are 59.5%; 40.6%; 54.2%; and 55.3%.4 Under the plan's most recent revision, the integration tiebreaker will be turned off once the entering class is brought into racial balance, and the district will turn to the third tiebreaker, proximity of the student's home to the school of choice, or the fourth tiebreaker, a lottery, to determine the remaining placements.

Plaintiffs, a group of parents whose children were not, or may not be, assigned to a high school of their choice under the assignment plan using the racial integration tiebreaker, claim that use of the tiebreaker violates the Washington Civil Rights Act (the "Act," the "Initiative," or "Initiative 200") (codified at RCW 49.60.400), the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United

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States Constitution, and Title VI of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964.

II. DISCUSSION

A. State Law Claim: Initiative 200

Guided by the principle that a court should avoid deciding a matter on federal constitutional grounds if state law grounds are available, the parties, in their cross motions for summary judgment, have asked the court to make an initial determination of the effect of Initiative 200 on the district's open choice policy. Plaintiffs contend that the Initiative outlaws the use of a racial tiebreaker in school assignments. Defendants argue that this provision should not be construed to outlaw the tiebreaker program, and in the alternative, that if it must be so construed, the Initiative is unconstitutional under both the Washington state and the United States constitutions.

In 1998, Washington voters passed Initiative 200, the Washington Civil Rights Act. The Act declares that state government, including local school districts, may not "discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of ... public education." RCW 49.60.400. Because the statute has not yet been interpreted by the Washington state judiciary, this court has the task of predicting how the state's highest court would apply the Act to this case. See Commissioner v. Estate of Bosch, 387 U.S. 456, 465, 87 S.Ct. 1776, 18 L.Ed.2d 886 (1967).

The court has a duty to construe Initiative 200, if possible, in a way that makes the initiative consistent with the state and federal constitutions; "where a statute is susceptible of several interpretations, some of which may render it unconstitutional, the court, without doing violence to the legislative purpose, will adopt a construction which will sustain its constitutionality if at all possible to do so." In re Cross, 99 Wash.2d 373, 382-83, 662 P.2d 828 (1983). As discussed below, applying Initiative 200 to outlaw the school district's integration plan would render the Act unconstitutional. The definitions of "preference" and "discrimination" provided in Washington and federal case law, however, furnish a reasonable saving construction that renders a finding of unconstitutionality unnecessary.

1. Application of Initiative 200 to the Open Choice Policy Would Impermissibly Effect an Amendment to the Washington Constitution

It is an established principle under Washington law that the legislature, or the people acting in their legislative capacity, may not amend the state constitution except by a special process. As recently noted in Gerberding v. Munro, Washington courts "have often stated the initiative process, as a means by which the people can exercise directly the legislative authority to enact bills and laws, is limited in scope to subject matter which is legislative in nature.... Thus, the initiative power may not be used to amend the Constitution." 134 Wash.2d 188, 210 n. 11, 949 P.2d 1366 (1998) (citations omitted). An amendment to the constitution may be effected only "through the process for constitutional amendment articulated in Wash. Const. art. XXIII." Id. at 211, 949 P.2d 1366. If plaintiffs' construction of Initiative 200 constitutes an amendment to the Washington Constitution, the court must either fashion a reasonable saving construction or find the initiative unconstitutional.

The Washington Constitution, article IX § 1 provides, "it is the paramount duty of the state to make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders, without distinction or preference

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on account of race, color, caste or sex." The section following states, "the legislature shall provide for a general and uniform system of public schools." Washington case law has construed the language of these two sections separately and in concert to require school districts to provide equal educational opportunity to students of all races, to limit racial isolation, and to provide a racially and ethnically diverse educational experience....

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8 practice notes
  • Parents Involved v. Seattle School Dist. 1, No. 01-35450.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • April 16, 2002
    ...it will admit to the City's most popular public high schools. See Parents Involved in Cmty. Schs. v. Seattle Sch. Dist. No. 1, 137 F.Supp.2d 1224 (2001) [Parents Involved I], rev'd, 285 F.3d 1236 (9th Cir.2002) [Parents Involved II], withdrawn, 294 F.3d 1084 (9th Cir.2002), certifying Page ......
  • Parents Involved in Community v. Seattle School, No. 01-35450.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • October 20, 2005
    ...under both state and federal law, granting the District's motion. Parents Involved in Cmty. Schs. v. Seattle Sch. Dist. No. 1, 137 F.Supp.2d 1224, 1240 (W.D.Wash.2001) ("Parents I"). Parents timely appealed, and on April 16, 2002, a three-judge panel of this court issued an opinion reversin......
  • PICS v. Seattle School Dist. No. 1, No. 72712-1.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Washington
    • June 26, 2003
    ...holding that the open choice plan did not violate state or federal law. See Parents Involved in Cmty. Sch. v. Seattle Sch. Dist. No. 1, 137 F.Supp.2d 1224, 1240 (W.D.Wash.2001) (PICS I), overturned by 285 F.3d 1236 (9th Cir.2002) (PICS II), opinion withdrawn by 294 F.3d 1084 (9th Cir. 2002)......
  • Parents Involved in Cmty. Sch. v. Seattle Sch. Dist. No. 1, Nos. 05–908
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • June 28, 2007
    ...strict scrutiny on the federal constitutional claim because it was narrowly tailored to serve a compelling government interest. 137 F.Supp.2d 1224, 1240 (W.D.Wash.2001)( Parents Involved I ). The Ninth Circuit initially reversed based on its interpretation of the Washington Civil Rights Act......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
8 cases
  • Parents Involved v. Seattle School Dist. 1, No. 01-35450.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • April 16, 2002
    ...it will admit to the City's most popular public high schools. See Parents Involved in Cmty. Schs. v. Seattle Sch. Dist. No. 1, 137 F.Supp.2d 1224 (2001) [Parents Involved I], rev'd, 285 F.3d 1236 (9th Cir.2002) [Parents Involved II], withdrawn, 294 F.3d 1084 (9th Cir.2002), certifying Page ......
  • Parents Involved in Community v. Seattle School, No. 01-35450.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • October 20, 2005
    ...under both state and federal law, granting the District's motion. Parents Involved in Cmty. Schs. v. Seattle Sch. Dist. No. 1, 137 F.Supp.2d 1224, 1240 (W.D.Wash.2001) ("Parents I"). Parents timely appealed, and on April 16, 2002, a three-judge panel of this court issued an opinion reversin......
  • PICS v. Seattle School Dist. No. 1, No. 72712-1.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Washington
    • June 26, 2003
    ...holding that the open choice plan did not violate state or federal law. See Parents Involved in Cmty. Sch. v. Seattle Sch. Dist. No. 1, 137 F.Supp.2d 1224, 1240 (W.D.Wash.2001) (PICS I), overturned by 285 F.3d 1236 (9th Cir.2002) (PICS II), opinion withdrawn by 294 F.3d 1084 (9th Cir. 2002)......
  • Parents Involved in Cmty. Sch. v. Seattle Sch. Dist. No. 1, Nos. 05–908
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • June 28, 2007
    ...strict scrutiny on the federal constitutional claim because it was narrowly tailored to serve a compelling government interest. 137 F.Supp.2d 1224, 1240 (W.D.Wash.2001)( Parents Involved I ). The Ninth Circuit initially reversed based on its interpretation of the Washington Civil Rights Act......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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