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Title VI: New Hanover County Schools (NC) OCR Complaint Nos. 11-09-1240 and 11-11-1185

On June 11, 2012 OCR closed two complaints against New Hanover County Schools (the District) alleging, among other claims, that students were not admitted to the District’s year round school because of an admissions lottery that gave extra weight to residents of a particular zip code which, according to the complainant, was predominantly minority. For this the complainant alleged discrimination on the basis of race. OCR found that the District chose to give extra weight in its lottery process to residents of a particular zip code because over 50% of students in most schools in that zip code were eligible for free or reduced price lunch (FRL). The District had found that the student test scores at schools with larger populations of FRL-eligible students were lower than student test scores at the year-round schools; including the zip code as a weighting factor was seen as a way to give the students from poorer families at the lower-performing schools a greater opportunity to attend one of the year-round schools. OCR acknowledged that the District’s interests in socioeconomic diversity were substantial and legitimate. Further, OCR’s investigation revealed no evidence of intent to discriminate based on race or any difference in treatment of students based on race. Indeed, although the District’s goal was socioeconomic diversity, the district could have legally pursued racial and ethnic diversity in its year round schools by using the same race-neutral factors that it used for the purposes of increasing socioeconomic diversity. A district’s use of race-neutral criteria—such as zip codes, parental education or income—for the purpose of achieving the compelling interests in racial diversity or avoiding racial isolation is not subject to strict scrutiny review.

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Last Modified: 01/15/2014