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Boston parent group suing school committee for new exam school admissions process

Boston Herald logo Boston Herald 2/27/2021 Alexi Cohan
a group of people walking down a street: \BOSTON MA. OCTOBER 18: A group of parents and alumni protest against a proposal to get rid of admissions tests to Boston's exam schools outside the Boston Latin School on October 18, 2020 in Boston, MA. (Staff Photo By Nancy Lane/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald) © Provided by Boston Herald \BOSTON MA. OCTOBER 18: A group of parents and alumni protest against a proposal to get rid of admissions tests to Boston's exam schools outside the Boston Latin School on October 18, 2020 in Boston, MA. (Staff Photo By Nancy Lane/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald)

A group of Boston parents has filed a lawsuit against the school committee and Superintendent Brenda Cassellius for what they call a “wholly-irrational” exam school admissions process, which had recently undergone changes due to the pandemic.

“As a parent, I want to request that my child receive a fair and equitable opportunity to apply for these three exam schools,” said Bentao Cui, president of Boston Parent Coalition for Academic Excellence, a new organization pushing for a merit-based entrance to Boston’s exam schools.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of 14 BPCAE families in U.S. District Court in Boston on Friday.

In October, school committee members voted to suspend for one year the use of an admissions test for Boston’s three elite schools Boston Latin School, Boston Latin Academy and the John D. O’Bryant School of Mathematics and Science.

Instead, invitations will now be issued by weighing student performance, zip code and GPA or MCAS results, a change that was considered a historic win for underserved communities when it was approved.

Zip codes are allocated spots at the schools based on the number of students living in the area and family income. Students in the zip code with the lowest family income will be placed first.

Some zip codes, such as Chinatown, Beacon Hill and West Roxbury will have less exam school seats while other neighborhoods that are typically disadvantaged such as Dorchester and Mattapan, will get more.

But the lawsuit says the zip code quota system is “wholly-irrational” and states that it serves to “disfavor Asian and White students by decreasing their numbers at the Boston Exam Schools while favoring Latino and African-American students by increasing their numbers.”

A Brighton parent and member of BPCAE said, “My kids have to submit GPAs and with so many kids in this zip location I just feel that my kids, their chance will be limited to get into exam schools.”

The lawsuit states, “The Students are being required to apply through a race-based process. This violates Students’ constitutional right to be free from racial and ethnic discrimination.”

The plaintiffs are asking the court to prevent admissions decisions from being made under the new system and to prohibit the district from using a zip code system as a factor in future admissions decisions.

It will be a tough sell among Boston stakeholders.

When the new system was approved, many city leaders and school advocates hailed it as an outstanding vote that helps to address longstanding equity issues within the district.

Tanisha Sullivan, president of Boston’s NAACP chapter and a member of the district’s exam schools working group had called the move “a historic and positive, transformative mark on our city.”

A spokesman for BPS declined to comment due to pending litigation.

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