By Jim Smith
BOSTON — A federal judge has refused to dismiss a lawsuit filed against the Boston Public Schools by a group of Boston parents who claim that the city’s school-assignment policy discriminates against white students who want to attend schools in their own neighborhoods.
The Boston School Department had asked U.S. District Court Judge Nancy Gertner to throw the case out of court because it had already agreed to address the concerns of the parents by agreeing to implement in September 2000 a race-neutral admissions policy that sets aside 50 percent of seats for students living close enough to walk to school.
But Gertner ruled last month that Boston’s Children First, a predominantly Irish-American group of parents led by Ann Walsh of Dorchester, should be able to argue its case that some children have been harmed by race-based admission policies.
"This ruling by the judge is taking us a step closer to our goal of improving the schools all over this city by making them accessible to the families who live nearby," Walsh told the Echo Monday. "People all over the country have a right to send their kids to schools near their homes, and it shouldn’t be different for those of us who live in the city."
Walsh, whose parents are from Counties Leitrim and Galway, is hoping to help write the final chapter of the city’s tumultuous history of forced school busing that began more than 25 years ago when the children from poor and working-class families in South Boston and Roxbury were transported across the city to schools far from home.
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In 1974, the late federal Judge W. Arthur Garrity Jr. ordered the busing of children as a means of achieving racial desegregation. That policy began to unravel in 1995 when attorney Michael McLaughlin challenged the constitutionality of the Boston exam schools’ race-based policy. In 1998, the federal appeals court in Boston ruled that the exam schools, including the prestigious Boston Latin School, could no longer give preference to minority students over white students with higher scores on admission tests.
Buoyed by that ruling and growing support for the concept of neighborhood schools, Walsh and her group filed their suit one year ago this month, seeking federal oversight of the dismantling of race-based admission policies in all of the city’s public schools.
"Our goal is to have the best schools in the United States right here in Boston," Walsh said. "And we strongly believe that a neighborhood school assignment policy is an important step toward that goal."