The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday announced its decision to decline to hear an appeal in Lower Merion School District's redistricting plan, ending a three-year debate about the plan's constitutionality.
The district in 2009 redistricted part of Ardmore, so some students who previously attended the closer Lower Merion High School then began attending Harriton High School; the change was said to equalize the two student populations. But several Lower Merion families—"Students Doe"—sued the district, questioning why the redistricted section of the township was a predominantly black area.
"The district has consistently maintained that the redistricting policy adopted by the board and implemented by the administration was and remains edueationally and operationally appropriate, and constitutional," according to a statement from the district Monday.
Students Doe also released a statement:
"Students Doe are of course disappointed that the Supreme Court did not grant their petition for review. However, they are very proud of what they have accomplished by bringing this action. They have brought to light the fact that the Lower Merion School Board's redistricting process was driven largely by racial considerations, and that this happened in private, behind closed doors, all while the District was denying that it was going on. They have brought to light the fact that the District has manipulated its own policies on things like school walk zones in a way that disadvantages some of the citizens while bestowing advantages on others. If nothing else, Students Doe and their families are hopeful that these proceedings will cause the District to be more open, transparent, and honest going forward, and that the District will act in the collective best interest of all its students irrespective of their race. The families, and the community that supports them, will now direct their efforts in other ways to realize this goal. They thank everyone in the community who has bravely stood by them throughout this process, and encourage everyone to stay involved and committed to seeking justice for all children."
The U.S. Court of Appeals ruled in the district’s favor in mid-December 2011. U.S. District Judge Michael M. Baylson found that the school board used race as one of several motivating factors in their redistricting decisions, but did not break any laws, according to Philadelphia Inquirer reports of the earlier trial.
The district, in a May 16 filing, emphasized that school officials exhaustively considered all ramifications of different redistricting options, with community input, and that both the Court of Appeals and U.S. District Court ruled its plan provided "equal protection."
Students Doe responded May 25, pointing out as "deeply troubling" the section of the district's filing that mentions how some school officials were concerned about the prospect of having disproportionately more black students at one high school than the other.
"On behalf of the Board of School Directors and District Administration, we are grateful to everyone in our community, including the parents who challenged the plan in court, for being concerned and passionate supporters of exemplary public education," reads a joint statement from LMSD Board President Diane DiBonaventuro and Superintendent Christopher W. McGinley. "We are pleased that this matter has been resolved. We move forward united behind the guiding principles of quality education for all students."
Clarification: A previous headline on this article mischaracterized the court's involvement. This article has also been updated to include a recent statement from representatives of Students Doe.