Court Affirms Racial Mix of Houston Schools
A federal appeals court has ruled that although the Houston Independent School District has "not achieved integrated student attendance," it has done everything possible to eradicate the remnants of state-imposed segregation.
"During the past 12 years of court-supervised desegregation, the [school district] and the successive trial judges who have presided over this litigation have made sustained good-faith efforts to create a unitary school system," said the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in its Feb. 17 opinion in Ross v. Houston Independent School District.
"Even if some method were devised to spread white students equally among all schools in the system, 74 percent of the students in each school would be black and Hispanic," the court said. "There are not enough white students left in the district to effect greater integration of student bodies without untoward costs on the students themselves."
The lawsuit came to the court after a federal district judge turned down, in June 1980, a request by the Justice Department to require a mandatory metropolitan desegregation plan for Houston and 22 adjacent suburban school districts.
That action marked the first time that the department, then under the control of the Carter Administration, had requested the imposition of a cross-district busing plan for a major city.
The district court denied the motion, holding that the city school system's voluntary busing and magnet-school program had to be implemented and evaluated before the suburban systems could be added as defendants in the lawsuit.
The following June, the district court ruled that the city school system had made acceptable progress under the voluntary plan, and again turned down the department's request for an inter-district remedy. In August 1981, the department, acting under the orders of the Reagan Administration, dropped out of the lawsuit. The appeal to the Fifth Circuit was filed on behalf of the plaintiffs by the naacp Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc.
The appeals court said that the lower courts were correct in determining that the city school system's "remaining one-race schools are the product of its majority of black and Hispanic students rather than the vestige of past discrimination."
"During the 12 years since 1970 when the first desegregation plan took effect, residential segregation within the district has increased dramatically," the court said.
"In addition, there have been major changes in the population of the district," it continued. "While the number of black families has increased only moderately, white families have moved from the district and Hispanic families have moved into it."
According to recent data, the Houston school system, the fifth largest in the nation, enrolls approximately 194,000 students, of whom 22 percent are white, 44 percent are black, and 31 percent are Hispanic. In the 1976-77 school year, those percentages were 34 percent, 43 percent, and 24 percent, respectively.--tm