In a case that eventually could have implications for Buffalo Public Schools, two white families whose daughters did not get into kindergarten at a magnet school have filed a legal challenge to the lottery admission system because it favors minorities.
Grace Tuttle and Rachel Sechler were not among the 46 students admitted by Arlington Traditional School's lottery, which is weighted to give additional chances to minority and poor students and those whose first language is not English.
In a lawsuit filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, their families asked a judge to order the school to rerun the lottery without the preferences. "The process they are using is not fair. It's not equal treatment," said their lawyer, Steven M. Levine.
Last May, a federal judge struck down the magnet school's quota system, which set aside half of the slots for minority children. The judge said the system illegally discriminated against whites.
Arlington responded by setting up the lottery, which school spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein believes will withstand the latest court challenge.
Arlington officials said they adopted the system because they wanted the school's population to resemble the entire district's. About 59 percent of Arlington students belong to minority groups.
Buffalo schools also use a lottery to assign 2,000 students a year to 21 magnet programs. The district uses race as the primary criteria, and, unlike Arlington, the Buffalo lottery tends to favor whites.
While three-quarters of the applicants for magnet schools are minority, whites get half the placements. In some schools, such as the Drew Science Magnet, it is virtually impossible for a minority to gain admission through the lottery because those slots are targeted for whites in an effort to compensate for the all-black composition of the neighborhood from which the school draws a majority of its enrollment.
As a result, whites face considerably better odds in getting into magnet schools -- about 1 in 3 -- than do minorities -- 1 in 11.
A ruling in the Arlington case would not have an immediate impact in Buffalo. A lower-court ruling would have to reach the appeals level before it would have an impact on other federal court jurisdictions.