St. Louis, Mo.
Despite the limitations imposed by the Supreme Court in Milliken I, several lower courts have since decided that cross-district desegregation plans can be legally justified under certain circumstances. A legal battle involving schools in the St. Louis metropolitan area has become the principal focus of this still-evolving area of school-desegregation law.
St. Louis's desegregation case dates from 1972, when Minnie Liddell, a black parent, filed suit against the St. Louis school board contending that her children were receiving an inferior education in a predominantly black city school.
The case languished until March 1980, when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit handed down a ruling requiring the busing of some 7,600 students in the 59,000-student district. Busing began without incident that fall.
The naacp contested the plan, however, arguing that there were not enough white students in the city's schools to desegregate them effectively. Approximately 80 percent of the district's students are black, and the city-only busing plan left more than half of the schools virtually all-black.
U.S. District Judge James Meredith refused the naacp's request to extend his desegregation order to predominantly white suburban school districts, but in May 1980 ordered city, state, and federal officials to devise a "voluntary, cooperative plan of pupil exchanges" for the entire metropolitan area.
A variety of plans were proposed over the next year by the government officials but were rejected by various parties to the suit as either inadequate or unworkable.
Then, in June 1981, U.S. District Judge William L. Hungate, who took over the case from the ailing Judge Meredith, proposed a voluntary cross-district plan of his own. He also informed the suburban districts that he would consider their participation in the voluntary plan when reviewing motions filed with him by the naacp and the city school board for a mandatory plan.
Only four suburban districts agreed to become involved in the voluntary plan. In late March 1983, Judge Hungate began preparations for a trial to determine whether the suburban districts that refused to go along with the agreement should be held liable for segregation in the city school district. Within a few weeks, all 23 suburban districts and the city district endorsed the agreement, and the nation's largest voluntary cross-district busing plan went into effect without incident last September. The plan envisions the eventual transfer of 15,000 students between the city and suburbs by 1985 and is expected to cost up to $500 million over the next five years.
The state of Missouri, which was a co-defendant in the lawsuit and was ordered by Judge Hungate to finance most of the plan's components, recently asked the Supreme Court to review the lawsuit. Twenty-four states have supported Missouri's position in papers filed with the Justices.