public schools, race, diversity


In the wake of the most important public schools case in decades, Parents Involved in Community Schools (PICS), the future of diversity in public schools is in doubt. This period of uncertainty comes at a moment when parents, educators, and employers are demanding high quality schools that prepare students for an increasingly globalized world. Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, in his PICS concurrence, recognized this discrepancy and challenged districts to continue the important work of bringing different students together without resorting to unconstitutional means. Filling the void between what is essential to public education and what is constitutionally permissible after PICS, the public schools of Jefferson County (Louisville), Kentucky, one of the districts rebuked in PICS, have accepted Justice Kennedy’s dare by crafting a nuanced, but still race-conscious, student assignment plan aimed at promoting broadly defined diversity and increasing the quality of education across the district. Specifically, the district’s new plan classifies neighborhoods based on student diversity, median household income, and adult educational attainment, and requires schools to consist of students from neighborhoods with diverse characteristics. The plan aims to ensure that the district’s schools will be diverse racially, geographically, and socioeconomically, thereby capturing the educational benefits of diverse schools. The Article argues two distinct points: first, that the new plan is a constitutionally permissible response to PICS and, second, that the new plan’s broadening of both the definition of diversity and the mission of a school district represents the beginning of a new post-Brown era that is responsive to the realities of public education in the twenty-first century. By tethering its analysis of PICS—and specifically of Justice Kennedy’s concurrence—to a specific response to that decision, the Article provides a detailed analysis of the new constitutional framework in this area. Ultimately, the Article argues that because it is both constitutional and educationally sound, the new plan represents the future of integration for any district willing to make the commitment to providing the educational benefits of diverse public schools to its students.

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