The Supreme Court held in Grutter v. Bollinger that the attainment of a diverse student body could justify the use of race in admissions decisions in higher education. This decision did not, however, address whether student body diversity could justify race-conscious student assignment policies at the public primary and secondary school level. Several circuit courts dodged this issue prior to Grutter, assuming that diversity was a compelling interest but invalidating the race-conscious student assignment plans as not narrowly tailored. Since Grutter, the Ninth Circuit, in Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District, No. 1, held that student body diversity is a compelling interest in the secondary school context yet struck down the policy as not satisfying Grutter's narrow tailoring framework.
The reluctance on the part of federal courts to uphold voluntary race-conscious student assignment policies, coupled with an increase in the termination of prior desegregation orders, has contributed to the rapid resegregation of public primary and secondary schools. This Comment provides a framework for upholding voluntary race-conscious student assignment policies at the K-12 level to potentially assist in reversing this trend. The author argues that an extension of Grutter's diversity rationale is warranted based on the demonstrated academic and societal benefits of diversity in primary and secondary schools, distinctions between the K-12 and higher education contexts, and Supreme Court precedent. The author also describes how school districts seeking to promote diversity through voluntary race-conscious student assignment policies can reasonably comply with Grutter's narrow tailoring requirements. Furthermore, the author argues that school districts with non-merit-based race-conscious student assignment policies need not comply with Grutter's requirement of individualized consideration, as student assignment in such schools is not predicated on students' distinguishing themselves as individuals.18_52UCLALRev5632004-2005