Federal Judge Upholds Equitable Admissions Policy for Boston Exam Schools

Ruling sides with Cooley amicus brief on behalf of Anti-Defamation League, the Boston Bar Association, civil rights groups, local businesses and Boston sports teams

Boston – April 23, 2021 – A Massachusetts federal judge has upheld the Boston school system’s new admission policy for exam schools, a victory that will enhance racial, socioeconomic and geographical diversity in the city’s most prestigious public high schools. Cooley partners Michael Sheetz and Adam Gershenson led the Cooley effort, representing Anti-Defamation League on an amicus brief alongside leading nonprofits, business organizations and sports teams the Boston Celtics and the Boston Red Sox. The brief demonstrated that diversity benefits all students and local businesses because it helps create a generation of leaders equipped to compete in a diverse, global marketplace.

The case, Boston Parent Coalition for Academic Excellence Corp. v. The School Committee of the city of Boston, involves a legal challenge to a temporary admissions plan installed because the city could not administer an admissions exam during the COVID-19 pandemic. The plan uses criteria that value high academic standards, increased neighborhood equity, socioeconomic inclusion and racial diversity.

In his ruling, US District Judge William Young said the policy, which is based on grades and ZIP codes, “does not have the effect of subjecting students to discrimination because of their race. Geographic and socioeconomic diversity are appropriate educational goals in their own right, regardless of race."

Under the change, students eligible for admission to the exam schools will be admitted in one of two ways. First, for 20% of seats at each exam school, students will be placed based on GPA. Second, for the remaining 80% of seats, students will be admitted based on a combination of grades and ZIP code. Each ZIP code will receive a number of seats proportionate to the share of school-age children living there. Top priority for placement will be given to areas with the lowest median household income.

In a joint statement following the ruling, the Boston Branch of the NAACP, The Greater Boston Latino Network, Asian Pacific Islander Civic Action Network, Asian American Resource Workshop, ADL and the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, which are intervenors or amici on the lawsuit, said: “This ruling is a victory for students and families across Boston. Over the past year, the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed deep inequities in our education system and created unprecedented and unforeseen challenges for students, educators, school leaders and families. The admissions criteria that were the subject of this lawsuit were designed thoughtfully and intentionally to respond to this crisis in a way that is fair to all of our students, and by upholding them, Judge Young has helped ensure that every student in Boston, despite the pandemic, will have the chance to attend some of the best high schools in our city. We look forward to continuing our work with Boston Public School leaders, educators, students and families to ensure that this policy is implemented with integrity and transparency.”

Cooley is committed to fighting for racial justice and effecting systemic change within the firm, the legal industry and its communities through ongoing education, engagement and action. The firm’s pro bono efforts for expanding access to justice run deep and strong. Its litigation docket includes cases challenging police misconduct and protecting voting rights, as well as a case headed to trial against the organizers of the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville.

Learn more about Cooley’s fight for racial justice

About Cooley LLP

Clients partner with Cooley on transformative deals, complex IP and regulatory matters, and high-stakes litigation, where innovation meets the law.

Cooley has 1,200 lawyers across 16 offices in the United States, Asia and Europe.

Related Contacts
Michael Sheetz Partner, Boston
Adam Gershenson Partner, Boston
Michael McMahon Associate, Boston
Robby L.R. SaldaƱa Associate, Washington, DC
Bryan Koch Associate, Boston
Brandon McLaughlin Associate, Boston
Elizabeth Reinhardt Associate, Boston
Elizabeth Rice Senior Paralegal, Boston
Related Practices & Industries

Pro Bono Commercial Litigation