Sleepless After Seattle ?
There’s still hope for equal educational opportunity.
Brown v. Board of Education , the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in 1954, accomplished both less and more than the desegregation of American public schools. Less, in that after the initial wave of school desegregation in the South in the late 1960s, subsequent court rulings exempted segregated schooling caused by housing patterns rather than explicit state policies (“de facto” segregation), and banned most urban-suburban desegregation remedies. The result: Since 1970, American schools have actually been re-segregating. But it accomplished more, in that what Brown also did, beyond setting desegregation in motion, was to usher in a new era in American jurisprudence in which courts would play a major role in formulating and implementing public policy.
Last June, when the high court struck down plans by school systems in Seattle and Jefferson County, Ky., to ensure racial balance in their classrooms, it was heard by many as the death knell not only for Brown, but also for broader judicial involvement in promoting institutional reform. Or, as Justice Clarence Thomas wrote of the court in his concurring opinion: “We are not social engineers.”
The court’s decision in Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1
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