EducationIssuesLocal News‘Special Circumstances’ at Liberal Arts and Science Academy Reveal Race-Based Admission Practices

The school's "holistic review" admits 20 percent of students under "special circumstances," which includes the race of the applicant.
March 14, 2023
The Liberal Arts and Science Academy (LASA) in Austin is routinely ranked as one of the top high schools in the nation, but new details of its admissions process show a change in evaluation and favorability.

According to its website, LASA only accepts 80 percent of incoming students based on their holistic scores, with the remaining 20 percent being ranked to include a “deeper dive” that includes meeting “special circumstances” to receive an acceptance.

There is a “holistic review” of applicants to LASA. Their rubric for evaluating potential students includes an assessment of grades, teacher recommendations, and creative work.

Some of the “special circumstances” include being a first-generation college student, being from an economically disadvantaged neighborhood, or belonging to a racial or ethnic group that is underrepresented on campus.

The student body of LASA is 43 percent white, 24 percent Asian, 22 percent Hispanic, and 3 percent black. For comparison, the City of Austin is 62 percent white, 23 percent Hispanic, 12 percent black, and 3 percent Asian.

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Prospective Asian students would not be eligible to qualify for “special circumstances” under LASA’s admissions policy because of their overrepresentation in the current student body as compared to the Austin city demographics.

“LASA is overtly favoring some children over others because of their skin color,” said Erin Wilcox of the Pacific Legal Foundation when she spoke with The Texan.

“Rather than treat each student as an individual as the Constitution demands, LASA treats each individual as a faceless representative of a particular racial group,” she said. “Applicants must either be let in or kept out to keep the school’s racial balance in check.”

LASA, as part of the Austin Independent School District (ISD) system, is a four-year public magnet school with just under 15,000 students. LASA states its mission is to create “socially responsible leaders, problem solvers, and thinkers through a nationally recognized, rigorous, innovative, interdisciplinary curriculum.”

The school profile states that 95 to 99 percent of students matriculate to four-year universities. U.S. News and World Report’s 2022 Best High Schools in America ranked LASA as the 34th best high school in the nation and fourth in Texas.

As a magnet school, LASA champions its academic rigor, stating the curriculum for each course “is written to go above and beyond state and district standards.”

In 2013, the Texas Legislature passed a bill that requires all students enrolled in a public high school to complete a four-year plan. As part of the LASA curriculum, students must complete a core curriculum and elective courses for graduation; multiple AP courses are also offered.

LASA offers multiple electives, including “Facing History & Ourselves” and “Ethnic Studies.” In Ethnic Studies, students focus on the “interplay between power (often political power) and difference (such as race, ethnicity, sexuality, and gender) and how the use of power can marginalize individuals who are viewed as different or other.”

In 2021, Gov. Greg Abbott signed Senate Bill (SB) 3 that sought to end “critical race theory” in public schools by prohibiting teaching “one race or sex is inherently superior to another race of sex” and asserting that an “individual’s race or sex, bears responsibility, blame, or guilt for actions committed by other member of the same race or sex.”

The U.S. Supreme Court is set to judge on two cases this year related to affirmative action and race-based admissions policies.

Nonprofit group Students for Fair Admissions alleges that both Harvard University and the University of North Carolina’s “holistic evaluations” used race as a factor for admissions to create a “diverse” student body, violating Title IV of the Civil Rights Act by penalizing Asian applicants.

Six Texas medical schools are currently engaged in a class-action lawsuit alleging they used illegal race and sex-based preferences in their admissions.

The plaintiff, George Stewart, applied and was rejected by six medical schools. He acquired admissions data through open records requests and discovered that grades and test scores of admitted black and Hispanic students were lower than those of white and Asian students.

“We are suing six medical schools for illegal racial discrimination: denying entry to qualified applicants solely because they are the ‘wrong’ race. AFL will not stand for it,” said Stephen Miller, whose America First Legal fund is representing Stewart.

“Decisions about who gets to be a doctor — with power over life and death — should be made based solely on merit,” Miller said.


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Cameron Abrams

Cameron Abrams is a reporter for The Texan. After graduating with a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology from Tabor College and a Master’s Degree from University of the Pacific, Cameron is finishing his doctoral studies where his research focuses on the postmodern philosophical influences in education. In his free time, you will find him listening to a podcast while training for an endurance running event.