Courts Must Hold States Responsible For School Desegregation,

October 25, 1989 3 min read

Panel Says
By Peter Schmidt

The courts should hold state governments responsible for the prompt desegregation of school districts, a panel of scholars assembled to study the status of black Americans recommended last week.

Because the states are the ultimate education authorities, the group argued, they should be required to finance and monitor desegregation efforts.

The group, which was organized by the William Monroe Trotter Institute of the University of Massachusetts at Boston, released a summary of its findings last week.

School desegregation has been “the engine for social reform,” the summary report found, and “has been relatively successful in all sections of the nation.”

But, the report continued, blacks have not experienced the full benefits of school desegregation “because of the confused and contra-indicated way in which law has been implemented.”

Blacks “have been excluded by authorities from the process of reform,” the study maintained, and they “have disproportionately experienced the burden of transportation to accomplish systematic desegregation.”

Along with the summary of its forthcoming full report, entitled “Assessment of the Status of African-Americans,” the Trotter Institute last week also released several critiques of a major report on race relations issued by the National Research Council in July. (See Education Week, Aug. 2, 1989.)

The Trotter Institute initiated its study in 1987 in anticipation of the nrc report, according to Wornie L. Reed, director of the institute.

In a press release, the organization said the nrc has been criticized for not involving enough black scholars and for including those who have tended to minimize oppression and discrimination as factors influencing present conditions in black communities.

Return of Oppression Seen

The Trotter Institute’s project brought together 35 experts to focus on six areas: education; the family; employment, income, and occupation; political participation and the administration of justice; social and cultural change; and health status and medical care.

“Practices of oppression returned during the 1980’s,” the summary stated. “Whites blamed black victims for failures in their home life and in their schooling. Our nation suffers from a loss of recent memory.”

The study group focusing on education said blacks have not fully benefited from desegregation plans, which have “evolved over a decade and a half in a haphazard and piecemeal fashion.”

“Blacks had hope during the late 1950’s and the 1960’s, but despair thereafter,” the report maintained, “as local education agencies desegregated more whites than blacks and gave whites greater access to magnet schools and other improvements.”

The document attributed many of the shortcomings of desegregation to what it described as the U.S. Supreme Court’s failure to provide criteria for determining the educational effectiveness of desegregation. The Court neither defined a unitary public-school system nor indicated how promptly desegregation should take place, the study said.

State ‘Co-Conspirators’

The summary faulted the Court for not identifying sources of technical assistance for the development of desegregation plans. The Court also “did not always cite the state as a co-conspirator in desegregation cases, although the state is the ultimate educational authority,” it maintained.

Local educational agencies, which were delegated the responsibilty of implementing a unitary system of integrated schools, were permitted to delay the implementation of desegregation plans in the name of the public interest, the report charged. Also, it stated, districts were not required to diversify the membership of school boards or to demonstrate how they would continue desegregation efforts under changing demographic conditions.

In addition to urging that state governments be held responsible for desegregation, the study called on the courts to “adhere to the dictum that justice delayed is justice denied.” All systems should be required to desegregate promptly, it argued, and to implement plans that will provide for continuing desegregation as their populations change.

The summary also proposed that state or federal laws be changed to require that local school authorities be elected by single-member, rather than at-large, districts.

Finally, the study faulted schools for channeling black students away from college-preparatory and hard-science courses. It urged the federal government and colleges and universities to provide more grant assistance to blacks in higher education.

A version of this article appeared in the October 25, 1989 edition of Education Week as Courts Must Hold States Responsible For School Desegregation,