U.S. Supreme Court declines to hear final appeal in Lower Merion Schools redistricting case

By Jon Campisi | Jun 20, 2012

The United State Supreme Court has declined to hear the plaintiffs’ appeal in the Lower Merion schools redistricting case.

The brief announcement, which was not accompanied by an explanation, was posted to the high court’s website Monday.

The case was initiated back in the spring of 2009, when the families of nine black students filed suit against the Lower Merion School District, located in the Philadelphia suburbs, after the school board approved a redistricting plan that would send the plaintiffs’ children and other students to a school further from their home.

The families alleged that the redistricting plan was motivated by race, since the black students could have remained in their neighborhood school, Lower Merion High School, but were instead forced to travel farther to attend a different secondary institution, Harriton High.

The new school the students would be attending was predominantly African American, while their former school, the one closer to their homes, mostly consisted of white students.

In June 2010, after the case was heard in federal court in Philadelphia, U.S. District Judge Michael Baylson, of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, ruled in favor of the school district.

Baylson had ruled that while the school board had used race as one of the motivating factors in its redistricting plan, it had not broken any laws in doing so, according to media reports and court papers.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, based in Philadelphia, upheld Baylson’s decision in late 2011.

The plaintiffs subsequently appealed to the nation’s highest court.

In a statement posted to the school district’s website June 18, officials praised the Supreme Court’s decision not to hear the last appeal in the case.

“The nation’s highest court today let stand lower Federal judicial decisions in favor of the Lower Merion School District that affirmed the constitutionality of the District’s comprehensive 2009 redistricting plan,” the statement says. “The District is pleased the litigation has come to an end with the U.S. Supreme Court declining to hear the final appeal filed by opponents of the Plan.

The District has consistently maintained that the redistricting policy adopted by the Board and implemented by the Administration was and remains educationally and operationally appropriate, and constitutional.”

The statement was accompanied by another statement signed by school board President Diane DiBonaventuro and Schools Superintendent Christopher W. McGinley, which said they are pleased the matter has finally been resolved, and will now allow the district to move forward and unify behind the “guiding principles of quality education for all students.

“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,” the statement reads.

The Lower Merion School District has been plagued by litigation in recent time, including lawsuits over the district’s so-called webcam spying case.

In that matter, some students claimed their privacy rights were violated when the cameras in take-home laptop computers indiscriminately snapped photos of them, occasionally while in precarious positions.

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