Rochester's Race-Based Student Transfers
Web Posted March 14, 2003
Since 1965 the Rochester, NY City School District (RCSD) has operated a race-based student
transfer program known as the Urban-Suburban Interdistrict Transfer Program. The stated
goal of this program is to increase the percentage of minority students in predominantly
white suburban schools.
According to the program's director, Ms. Theresa J. Woodson , the program allows
urban-minority students to attend six participating suburban schools in an effort to
"reduce minority isolation" and "encourage intercultural learning". [Note 1]
The program was instituted voluntarily by the Rochester City School District in 1965 to
combat the effects of what they call "de facto segregation", i.e., segregation
and racial isolation which results from voluntary choices such as housing patterns. This
is also sometimes known as "voluntary segregation". Note that the Rochester
schools have never been charged with actual racial segregation, called "de jure
segregation", i.e., racial segregation and racial separatism resulting from, for
example, governmental edicts, laws or other policies restricting the rights and freedoms
of certain races and ethnicities.
Brighton High School in Rochester, NY
Under the terms of Rochester's Urban-Suburban Interdistrict Transfer Program, white
students are not allowed to transfer from Rochester's city schools to "better"
suburban schools. There is an exception: a white student can transer only if doing so does
not "upset the racial balance" of the school.
According to Brighton High School principal Peter Knapp "we've never seen an
application [to the transfer program] that was from a Caucasian." [Note 1] That is, not until 10 year old Jessica Haak applied
for the program.
Ten Year Old Jessica Haak
In 1998 Rochester elementary student Jessica Haak, who is white, was denied a transfer to
a "better" suburban school due to her skin color.
From 1996 to 1998 Jessica Haak's parents tried to get her transferred from the Rochester
City School District (RCSD) -- the inner city schools which are dominated by minorities --
to a better, suburban school. Up until 1998 Jessica's transfer request was refused because
the transfer program had no open slots.
Then, in July of 1998, Jessica's parents were notified that the nearby Iroquois Elementary
School in the West Irondequoit Central School District (WICSD) might have an opening for
Jessica. After an interview process (apparently conducted by telephone), Jessica's
transfer to Iroquois was approved for the 1998 - 1999 school year.
At an orientation session for transfer students, an official of the Urban-Suburban
Interdistrict Transfer Program noticed that Jessica was white. A few days later officials
of the transfer program informed Jessica's parents that Jessica could NOT participate in
the program because she was white.
Jessica's Parents Sue for Discrimination -- And Win!
Subsequently, Jessica's parents filed a racial discrimination lawsuit against all of: the
Rochester City School District, the Urban-Suburban Interdistrict Transfer Program, and the
officials of these organizations in federal district court.
case was heard by Chief Federal District Judge David G. Larimer of the Western District of
On January 14, 1999 the court ruled in favor of Jessica Haak and her parents. Judge
Larimer ordered the WICSD to allow Jessica Haak to transfer to and attend classes at the
Iroquois Elementary School. (His order was later vacated by the appeals court, but more on
In his written opinion, Judge Larimer noted, among other things, that the racial criteria
utilized by Rochester's Urban-Suburban Interdistrict Transfer Program for selecting
transfer students violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. Judge
Larimer noted that when certain races are given preference while others are barred
completely, such a policy "tends to promote racial stereotypes rather than to
Larimer also wrote that "The basic issue before the Court is whether a governmental
body -- a school district -- can deny a child the opportunity to participate in a
school-sponsored program on account of her race. The answer must be 'no.'"
The Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution declares
that, "No state shall . . . deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal
protection of the laws." It further prohibits the government from treating similarly
situated individuals differently without substantial justification. And the Fourteenth
Amendment explicitly prohibits discrimination on the basis of race and ethnicity.
(4) Racial Special Interests Appeal the Jessica Haak
However, the Rochester school district, the school board, the transfer program, and the
State of New York (collectively "the defendants") appealed Judge Larimer's
decision to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.
defendants presented their arguments to the court on Sept. 30, 1999. On May 11, 2000 the
appeals court ruled against Jessica Haak:
"We hold that plaintiffs (Jessica Haak and
her parents) have not met the requisite heightened standard for issuance of a mandatory
injunction and, therefore, [we] vacate the injunction and remand for a full trial on the
merits. [Judge Larimer's lower court decision is] vacated and remanded."
The appeals court voted to send the Jessica Haak
case back to the Western District Court of New York [Judge Larimer] for a full trial, thus
effectively postponing the death of this constitutionally suspect program by several more
years at least.
Liberal, Pro-Quota Judges:
The Second Circuit Court of Appeals panel consisted of three judges, two of whom
were appointed by Bill Clinton. The two Clinton-appointed judges wrote the majority
opinion in the appeal, which effectively endorsed race-based school assignments.
The third judge on the appeals panel, a Reagan appointee, dissented. In his dissenting
opinion Judge Roger J. Miner wrote "There is absolutely no evidence that the program
has succeeded in accomplishing its purposes after a full 35 years of existence."
Friend of the Court Briefs in Support
Rochester Race-Based Transfers: Two renowned pro-racial-preference activist
groups filed "friend of the court briefs" (amicus curae briefs) supporting
Rochester's racial transfer program:
"... May public schools assign
children to ensure racial and ethnic balance in the classroom?
"After that, may colleges and universities hold blacks and Hispanics to lower
standards than whites and Asians?
after graduation, may employers discriminate in hiring and promotion based on melanin
content, where one's ancestors came from, and gender?
those who start their own businesses, may the government continue to deny contracts to the
lowest bidder because of race?" [Note
Brighton High School in wealthy West
- Bill Lann Lee, Bill Clinton's illegally appointed
Acting Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, United States Department of Justice,
Washington, D.C. submitted a brief arguing for the continuation of race-based student
assignments. (Before going to work for Bill Clinton, Mr. Lee was the western regional
director of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.)
- Also, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational
Fund, Inc.,Washington, DC filed a lengthy brief in support of a continuation of race-based
student assignments in Rochester.
The State of New York also filed
an amicus brief in support of Rochester's race-based student transfer program.
(5) Rochester Schools Pay Off Jessica;
Temporarily Suspend Racial Transfers
Meanwhile, Adversity.Net has been informed that the school district reached a financial
settlement with the parents of Jessica Haak, who then dropped their lawsuit and moved from
the area. [Note 2] Unfortunately, this is a common outcome for parents of
non-minority students who fight racial preferences.
Also, as of February 2000 the Brighton Central School District has temporarily suspended
the Urban-Suburban Interdistrict Transfer Program pending the final outcome of the
lawsuit. [Note 1]
(6) "Racial Isolation" (Voluntary Segregation) Increased
Despite the Rochester Program
The Rochester race-based student transfer program's stated goal -- "ending racial
isolation and increasing diversity" -- is a miserable failure and on that basis alone
perhaps it should be abandoned.
In 1965, when Rochester's race-based student transfer program was implemented,
approximately 25% of the students in Rochester's city schools were minorities.
Today, after 35 years of the race-based transfer program, the students in Rochester's city
schools are a whopping 80% minority. This is hardly compelling evidence that the program
has been even minimially effective in ending "voluntary, de facto segregation"
and "racial isolation".
(7) White Rochester Teachers Also Discriminated Against
At this writing there are currently at least seven
reverse discrimination lawsuits pending against the Rochester schools by white
teachers. The teachers are challenging the race-based hiring, transfer and
promotions policies of the Rochester City School District and the Rochester Teachers
The same judge in the same district court that heard Jessica Haak's case -- Judge Larimer
-- has been hearing the teacher's reverse discrimination cases, some of which have been
stalled in Larimer's court for five years.
To date, the RCSD has spent over $2.5 million dollars fighting against the white teachers
via their law firm, Harter, Secrest & Emery, LLP. This is a very significant
amount of money for a school district which for the 2nd year in a row has a $69 million
budget deficit. [Note
(8) Notes / Footnotes
|Note 1: Brighton High School
"Trapezoid Online" 2/24/2002
Last Known Link:
Adversity.Net correspondence with white teachers from the Rochester school system.
3: Roger Clegg and John Sullivan, National Review 1/13/00
(9) Additional Background Sources and Links
Is Not Enough: A New York case strikes a blow against race-based admissions", by
Benjamin Dowling-Sendor, The American School Board Journal, July 1999.
Last known link: http://www.asbj.com/199907/0799schoollaw.html
"Judge Orders School to
Accept White Girl from City", Associated Press via Boston Globe 1/15/99.
Last known link: http://www.boston.com/dailynews/wirehtml/015/Judge_orders_suburban_school_to_acc.shtml
Bill Lann Lee / Clinton Justice Dept. Brief
Supporting Rochester's Program before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in
Brewer v. West Irondequoit Central School District (No. 99-7186)
Last known link: http://www.usdoj.gov/crt/briefs/brewer.htm
Links to the Full Opinion of the Second Circuit
Court (last known links):
Dissenting Opinion (supporting Jessica Haak),
Last known link: http://csmail.law.pace.edu/lawlib/legal/us-legal/judiciary/second-circuit/test3/99-7186.dis.html
The formal title of this case is as follows:
Laurie A. Brewer, and Jodie
Foster, individually and as parents and guardians of Jessica L. Haak, a minor,
The West Irondequoit Central
School District, The Urban-Suburban Interdistrict Transfer Program, Monroe Number One
Board Of Cooperative Educational Services, Theresa J. Woodson, Gretchen Stephan and
Marlene S. Allen, in their individual and official capacities,
The case is also known by either of the following
Brewer v. The West
Irondequoit Central School District
Brewer v. West Irondequoit
END Case 32: Jessica Haak