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Wednesday, July 28, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

Racial tiebreakers' use was short term, limited

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What is a tiebreaker?

Under Seattle Public Schools' open-choice plan, tiebreakers are used to determine who gets assigned to schools that have more applicants than available seats. Today, preference goes first to applicants with a sibling at the school and next to students who live closest to the school. A lottery can be the third method but is rarely used.

When was the racial tiebreaker used?

The current racial tiebreaker was used from 1998 to the 2000-01 school year. It was the second tiebreaking factor. It applied only to incoming kindergartners and sixth- and ninth-graders and only at schools considered racially unbalanced compared with the district as a whole — that is, schools whose proportion of white and nonwhite students deviated 15 percent from the districtwide average of 40 percent white and 60 percent nonwhite.

Which schools used the racial tiebreaker?

Ballard, Hale, Roosevelt and Franklin high schools (the tiebreaker favored students of color at Ballard, Hale and Roosevelt, and white students at Franklin). Middle schools that used the tiebreaker were Eckstein, Whitman and Coho/NOMS. Fewer than half of the district's 60 elementary schools used the tiebreaker.

Who sued the Seattle School District?

A group of parents, most of whom had children denied assignment to Ballard High School. They said the racial tiebreaker favored children of color at the predominantly white school. The court was asked only to consider the validity of race-based high-school assignments.

How many students were assigned using the racial tiebreaker?

The district estimated that in 2000 about one-tenth of high school students (300 of 3,000) were assigned on the basis of race.

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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