School Desegregation: Locking the Kids In

As part of a desegregation effort in Huntington Beach, Calif., white students attending schools with minority enrollment of 64 percent or higher are forbidden from transferring out while minority students are no longer allowed to transfer in.

"It locks the exit doors for whites. It locks the entrance doors for minorities. It's just a repugnant situation and it's not something a free society should condone," said parent Bruce Crawford, whose kids graduated from one of six area high schools affected by the policy.

School board member Matthew Harper opposes the racial balancing policy, which he says is only being applied to white students and has been enforced to an extreme, even preventing one boy from transferring to another school so he could help care for his disabled sister.

"It actually goes both ways but it's only been enforced in one direction. The only students who have been denied a transfer are white students of non-Hispanic origin," Harper said.

In 1996, Californians voted to outlaw racial preferences in education, but a district court upheld the policy in 2000. Attorneys for some Huntington parents, including Crawford, have now filed an appeal, and the case is likely to reach the state Supreme Court.

The president of Huntington Beach Union High School District said she supports the policy wholeheartedly. 

District lawyers and many members of the school board who support the policy refused to speak on the record about the case, but did send a 55-page court brief that explains their position. 

It says the racial-quota policy protects against segregation, and they argue the three-year-old program is covered by the equal protection clause in California's state constitution. The clause, they argue, allows them to take any means necessary to avoid segregation.

Opponents say they are missing the point.

"Martin Luther King's dream was a color-blind society. Why should we look at race when deciding who should transfer and who should not?" Crawford said.