Ardmore, PA (BlackNews.com) – A federal judge has scheduled a trial on August 3 to consider a request for a preliminary injunction in the case of nine African American students who are suing the Lower Merion School District over a controversial, racially charged, redistricting plan which was adopted on January 12, 2009.
The South Ardmore neighborhood remains the only neighborhood in all of Lower Merion Township with any significant ethnic diversity, and no other area of the Township can claim more than 10% minority families. South Ardmore comprises 40%. Historically the children of South Ardmore walked to their public schools. One by one, the School District has closed the neighborhood schools, busing these children living within a one-mile area to different elementary schools across the township. Now, only one neighborhood school remains, Lower Merion High. Under the District’s plan, however, the students of South Ardmore will no longer be permitted to walk to and attend their neighborhood high school.
Why target this particular neighborhood? The predominant reason: Racially balancing the two high schools. By busing these children, the district will increase Harrition High School’s African-American enrollment from 5% to 9%. Lower Merion High School’s ethnic enrollment is similarly decreased, so that both high schools will have nearly the same ethnic makeup. Lower Merion School District claims that this racial balancing happened just by coincidence — a coincidence that exactly half of the students are assigned at each high school? A coincidence that the only African-American neighborhood in the entire District is sliced in half along residential streets?
Consider that African Americans make up approximately 10% of all high school enrollments. Yet they make up 40% of the students whose high school changes under this plan, and are more than twice as likely as children of any other ethnicity to have their enrollment changed. This District is not nor has it ever been under any order to de-segregate; indeed, African American students are only 9% of the entire high school population. The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission are already investigating allegations of racial discrimination in the redistricting plan.
The District, already represented by the law firm of Wisler Pearlstine, retained a second firm, Morgan Lewis, to defend the case. Six high powered lawyers have now registered to defend the District in this case in an effort to outspend the plaintiffs. In contrast, the plaintiffs are represented by one attorney, a local sole practitioner, with a second attorney, also a sole practitioner, assisting during hearings.
Lower Merion Voices United for Equity in Education (LMVUE), a recently formed local grass roots organization, is advocating for equal educational opportunities for all children in the District regardless of race, background, religion, or any other factor. Although LMVUE is not a party to the law suit, the group supports the plaintiffs who are courageously fighting for restoration of their civil rights. LMVUE is composed of concerned residents from across the township, and encourages residents and others interested in fighting discrimination to visit their web site at www.lmvue.org