AFEF sues county for discrimination in magnet school admissions


Ellie Cowen

The racial makeup of competitive mathematics, science, and computer science magnet program at Takoma Park MS reveals how Asian and white students are overrepresented in the program, compared to county-wide demographics.

The Association for Education Fairness is suing the Board of Education and Superintendent of Montgomery County Schools Jack Smith for discrimination against Asian-American students in the magnet application process. The county made changes to the admission process, which the AFEF alleges unfairly disadvantages Asian students, violating the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th amendment.

The Pacific Legal Fund is representing the plaintiffs. The county has filed a motion to dismiss the case, claiming the purpose of the changes was to increase socioeconomic and demographic diversity in magnet schools.

The changes to the admissions process were first introduced in 2017. The new process no longer considers only a student’s grades and test scores but how each they compare to their school. For example, students that perform well on admissions tests must not only score highly compared to the county to gain admission to the magnet program, but compared to their school as well.

The new system allows for students from lower performing schools to be more likely to be accepted, since they are not being as closely compared to the county as a whole. These changes also mean that a relatively similar number of students from each school would be accepted, despite differences in scores.

According to senior Aashna Singh, the fundamental disagreement stems from differing opinions on the function of magnet schools. “Many people view it as a avenue by which students can stand out among others when in reality, I think it should be viewed as an opportunity for students whose potential is not being met by their school [to] be put into one that allows them to grow,” Singh said.

If you have a neutral and fair admissions process, we shouldn’t care what the racial outcome is. And we shouldn’t be manipulating it to get to the point where we want a racial outcome”

— Christ Keiser

While the admissions process makes no explicit mention of race consideration, the plaintiff claims the changes were made to increase minority acceptance. “If you have a neutral and fair admissions process, we shouldn’t care what the racial outcome is. And we shouldn’t be manipulating it to get to the point where we want a racial outcome,” AFEF lawyer Chris Keiser said.

A report from the Metis Institute finds that the new admissions system allowed for more white, Black and Hispanic students to be accepted to magnet schools. From 2017-2018, Asian student acceptance to Takoma Park Middle School dropped 8.6%, according to The Daily Signal.

The lawsuit claims that adopting policies designed to increase racial minority acceptance violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th amendment. “MCPS has tweaked the system in hopes of achieving a desired racial outcome– fewer ‘overrepresented’ Asian-Americans. Equal protection demands that government decision making be free from the taint of racial balancing,” according to the plaintiff’s demand for jury trial.

If the case does go to court, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund has reached out to student-run advocacy group Moco4Change to submit an amicus brief in support of the county. “Moco4Change’s role [is] to provide the very valuable MCPS student perspective to the case. Our perspective wouldn’t just be valuable because we are students, but also because this organization has a long history of advocating for educational equity,” Singh said, who is also the organization’s Historian on the Executive Board.