A group representing parents frustrated with Boston Public Schools’ plan to consider neighborhood residence in admissions to the city’s three prestigious exam schools filed a federal lawsuit Friday against the School Committee and the superintendent seeking to block implementation of the plan, documents show.
The Boston Parent Coalition for Academic Excellence said in a complaint filed in US District Court in Boston that a plan the School Committee adopted in October to temporarily drop admissions tests and instead determine eligibility and acceptance for this fall using grades, MCAS scores, and ZIP codes because of the pandemic is racially discriminatory and unconstitutional.
The lawsuit says the School Committee and Superintendent Brenda Cassellius “have imposed upon the school children of Boston a racial and ethnic classification system for entry into its most prestigious public schools” that violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the US Constitution.
The school committee voted in October to drop for one year the test for admission test for Boston Latin School, Boston Latin Academy, and the John D. O’Bryant School of Mathematics and Science due to the pandemic which has kept most city schools operating online for nearly a year.
The admissions plan for this fall awards 20 percent of seats in the three schools based exclusively on grades. The remaining 80 percent of seats are awarded based on grades and ZIP codes, with the largest number going to the neighborhood with the greatest proportion of the city’s school-age children.
Under this plan, the lawsuit says, the defendants are “subordinating the longstanding merit-based citywide competition to a newly-created, and wholly-irrational quota system based on zip codes, which have never been a unit of educational qualification, and which are being purposefully used here as a proxy for race and ethnicity.”
The lawsuit was brought on behalf of 14 sixth-grade students of Chinese, Indian, and white ancestry who have applied to one or more of the exam schools and their parents, who are members of the organization, according to the filings.
The families live in Chinatown, Brighton, Beacon Hill, and West Roxbury — all neighborhoods they say would be adversely affected by the ZIP code assignment system, documents show.
The organization, its attorney, and the mayor’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the case Friday night.
Xavier Andrews, a Boston Public Schools spokesman, declined to comment, citing the pending litigation.
The School Committee voted to adopt the controversial plan, which was recommended by a working group appointed by Cassellius, after a marathon meeting that included more than 8 hours of public comment. Parents voiced both opposition and support for the plan, which had the backing of Mayor Martin J. Walsh and School Department leaders.
The coalition behind the lawsuit was incorporated less than a month after that vote, according to records from the secretary of state’s office. The group has also established an online fundraising page that had garnered more than $5,000 in donations toward a $20,000 goal, as of Friday night.
This report has been updated to clarify the intent of the lawsuit.