After Desegregation, We're on Our Own

Article excerpt

The era of federal court supervision of school desegregation efforts has come to an end. In Missouri vs. Jenkins, the Supreme Court held that a federal court in Kansas City exceeded its authority when it held that student performance on standardized tests was an appropriate measure for determining whether the state had satisfied its burden of eliminating the effects of racial segregation in public schools.

In reaching this conclusion, the court affirmed two previous decisions in which it held that a school district's duty to eliminate racial segregation was limited to good faith compliance with desegregation orders and the elimination of the vestiges of segregation "to the extent practicable."

Jenkins represents the culmination of a trend that began with Oklahoma City Public Schools vs. Dowell and Freeman vs. Pitts. These decisions modified a longstanding standard that was used to decide whether the elimination of the effects of segregation had been achieved. In the late 1960s, the Supreme Court held that state and local governments that operated segregated school systems were obligated to eliminate all vestiges of segregation "root and branch."

Unitary status, the goal of desegregation efforts, could not be achieved as long as racially identifiable schools existed. The duty to eliminate all vestiges of segregation resulted in busing to achieve racial balance and in other programs that were designed to enhance the quality of inner-city schools.

In Missouri, the state was required to pay for a substantial portion of these programs. In Jenkins, the Supreme Court made clear that the continued existence of single-race schools does not mean school districts have failed to satisfy their obligation to dismantle the effects of state-enforced segregation. In the court's view, all-black schools in inner-city areas and virtually all-white schools in the suburbs merely reflect the segregated housing patterns that continue to exist in most American cities. …