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Talented 20 plan still under attack

The NAACP is appealing a judge's ruling that said the university admissions plan is valid.

By BARRY KLEIN

© St. Petersburg Times, published August 12, 2000


The state NAACP is appealing a judge's ruling upholding the legality of Gov. Jeb Bush's "Talented 20" plan, a critical component of his program to eliminate racial preferences in university admissions.

The challenge, filed Friday with the 1st District Court of Appeal, will not delay implementation of the plan, which guarantees high school seniors who graduate in the top 20 percent of their class a spot in a Florida university.

Both Bush and university system Chancellor Adam Herbert have said the plan should boost minority enrollment at Florida's 10 public universities, despite its prohibition of the use of racial preferences.

NAACP officials aren't so sure. That's why they filed suit last year seeking to halt the Talented 20 plan, which they say should have been subject to the legislative process rather than established by government order.

"We entered this because we believed we were right, and we still believe we are right," said Adora Obi Nweze, president of the Florida chapter of the NAACP. "Floridians should have been given a better opportunity to become informed about the plan and its many implications."

In his ruling last month, Administrative Law Judge Charles Adams said the state Board of Regents and the state Board of Education -- both of which approved the Talented 20 concept -- acted within their legal authority.

The litigation, however, delayed the plan's implementation for several months. That greatly reduced its impact on this year's university enrollment.

Most admission decisions for the fall were made well before the ruling was issued, said university system spokesman Keith Goldschmidt. But he said all students who graduated in the top 20 percent of their class and who completed 19 college preparatory credits still are guaranteed a spot at one of the state's 10 public universities.

John Newton, the attorney representing the NAACP, said the organization could ask the1st District Court of Appeal to certify the case to the Florida Supreme Court as an issue of great public importance.

But it might leave the case in the hands of the appellate court. Either way, the appeal will focus on a number of issues, including the regents' decision to leave class ranking in the hands of the state's 67 school districts.

Some districtsgive certain coursesmore weight than others when doing their calculations; some districts countthem all the same.

Adams described that process as "arbitrary and capricious." He said it treats students differently, "recognizing some for more rigorous academic achievement, as the law intends, while penalizing others (by) allowing less qualified students to take their place in the selection."

He did not, however, determine the rule invalid, a decision that puzzles NAACP officials.

"There are a number of things that need to be cleared up," Nweze said.

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