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Wednesday, October 4, 2023
Oct. 4, 2023

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What drove the parent whose lawsuit ended Seattle’s integration effort


SEATTLE — One of the last times Kathleen Brose heard from a reporter was 15 years ago, when a journalist told her the nation’s highest court had ruled in her favor, ending Seattle Public Schools’ final major attempt at racial integration.

In an 2022 interview, she told the same story she did at a news conference the day after the ruling came down: that she didn’t go looking for a fight with the district, and “didn’t get a dime” from the litigation.

As a teenager in the 1970s, she participated in the district’s voluntary integration program, taking a bus from her home in West Seattle to Cleveland High School in South Seattle. She found the experience enriching, but returned to West Seattle after two terms because of the long commute.

That history, in part, is why Brose — who was a stay-at-home mom at the time of the lawsuit in 2000, and a volunteer in her daughters’ schools — stepped into the spotlight, she said. The family lived in the Magnolia neighborhood. Her oldest daughter played cello, and was denied admission at Ballard, Roosevelt and Nathan Hale. Ingraham and Franklin High offered her a seat, but both would’ve required a long commute, and Franklin didn’t have an orchestra.

At the time, students could apply to any high school of their choice, ranking their options. When demand was greater than the number of seats available, the district applied the racial tiebreaker, which gave students an advantage if they helped balance out the school’s demographics to make it more representative of the district, which at that time was 60% students of color.

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She and other families united under a nonprofit, Parents Involved in Community Schools, claiming they were victims of discrimination.

“I mean, the logic of it, how does that change anything, if you add 10 more kids of a particular skin color to a school?” asked Brose, who is white.

But to Shannon McMinimee, an SPS attorney at the time, “This case was about a group of white parents who wanted to get their kids into Ballard,” at that time a newly remodeled school with state-of-the-art academic programs. In 2000, the tiebreaker policy wasn’t controversial, she said, arguing that the plaintiffs represented a small minority of vocal opponents.

Brose admits that Ballard’s status played a role, calling it a “beautiful school.” Franklin — which was 75% Black at the time — didn’t have as sterling a reputation, she said. But Brose said she quickly realized that litigation would take a long time, and the case wouldn’t help get her eldest daughter into the school. (Her younger daughter attended Ballard when there was space a few years after.)

“It was my battle, not hers,” she said. “It was the right thing to do.”

Brose said the plaintiffs, a few dozen members at its peak, included people of color who sought to get their kids into schools outside Ballard. She was no longer in touch with them and didn’t have their contact information.

When asked if she understood where criticisms of her case came from, she argued that the schools had become more diverse by the time of the suit. (School segregation was actually worse than it was in the ‘80s.)

She would have also opposed using an economic tiebreaker instead because it would discriminate against people with higher incomes.

“We shouldn’t have to discriminate against one group to help elevate another group,” she said.

Her eldest daughter never attended Franklin. The district instead created The Center School, an alternative high school housed at Seattle Center to address the plaintiffs’ concerns.

Since the ruling, Brose has led a quiet life. For nine years — after she successfully sued SPS again for $2 million on behalf of her attorneys, who took the case pro bono — she was on the district’s payroll, working in the front office of John Hay Elementary.

Each staff member has a short biography on the school’s website. Until her retirement last summer, Brose had one, too. It read, in part: “I love the diverse community here at John Hay!”