Judge Removes Suburbs From Kansas City Desegregation Suit

By Tom Mirga — April 11, 1984 4 min read

A federal district judge dismissed charges last week against 11 predominantly white suburban Kansas City, Mo., school districts in a lawsuit seeking to desegregate the city school system.

But the lawyer representing the group of city schoolchildren who filed the suit said he was confident that the suburban districts wouldnonetheless be required to participate in a desegregation plan with the predominantly black city schools, despite U.S. District Judge Russell Clark’s April 2 ruling.

“Although we would have preferred for the judge to have left them in, we remain confident that [the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit] will agree with us that there is an interdistrict violation for which an interdistrict remedy is necessary,” said Arthur Benson 2nd.

‘Unduly Long Nightmare’

Lawyers for the suburban districts and the state of Missouri, meanwhile, praised the ruling as “a major victory” that promises to end “an unduly long nightmare of irrelevant and expensive litigation.”

The city school district, which is nearly 75-percent black, initiated the lawsuit in 1977 on behalf of eight students, but later became a defendant itself. The case, Jenkins v. Missouri, seeks the reassignment of students between the city and the 11 surrounding suburbs, where black-student enrollment ranges from approximately 3 percent to 16 percent.

Also named as defendants in the case are the state government, the U.S. Education Department, and the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Department.

Housing Patterns

The plaintiffs allege that these government units should help finance a desegregation plan because they condoned segregated housing patterns and other policies that contributed to student segregation in the city’s schools.

Although Judge Clark granted the suburban districts’ motion for the dismissal of charges against them, he said he would not decide immediately on similar motions by the state and federal governments. He added that he would outline the reasoning supporting his decision in a later memorandum.

George Feldmiller, liaison counsel for the 11 suburban districts, said the judge’s ruling was “eminently fair and proper and long overdue.”

“We knew all along that this decision was coming because there was virtually a void of evidence against the suburban districts or of any evidence at all of action that would justify the imposition of a metropolitan remedy,” he said. “Metropolitan plans are just a disguise, a way to get more state aid into the city. And most of it is probably wasted.”

State Attorney General John D. Ashcroft, meanwhile, called the decision “a major victory” for taxpayers in the suburban school districts and the state.

“The state is very pleased with the ruling because the financial consequences of any court order will be substantially less than they would be if there would be interdistrict busing, magnet schools, and the like,” he said.

St. Louis Ruling

On Feb. 8, the Eighth Circuit Court handed down a ruling requiring the state to finance a major portion of a landmark voluntary desegregation plan for St. Louis and 23 suburban districts. State officials have said they will ask the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn that ruling, which could cost the state upwards of $45 million annually. (See Education Week, Feb. 15, 1984.)

“It’s going to be very tough for the Eighth Circuit to rule against us because it has already found the state to be the primary violator in the St. Louis case, and the facts there apply equally to Kansas City,” said Mr. Benson, the lawyer for the plaintiffs in the case.

“In the meantime, I think we have the best of both worlds,” he continued. “With the 11 districts out, the state has to carry the burden of defense without the help of 11 teams of lawyers. Also, I think we’ll get to the Eighth Circuit that much sooner with them out of the way.”

Other Activity

In another school-desegregation development, the Richmond, Va., school board and the naacp Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc. have charged in federal district court that the state of Virginia and the city of Richmond have maintained the vestiges of a dual school system by inadequately funding education in the city.

The suit seeks a readjustment of the state school-finance formula “to take into account the cost of desegregation and the special educational needs of black schoolchildren in Richmond who continue to face the effects of past discrimination,” said the civil-rights organization in a prepared statement.

The school board and the group allege that city and state officials have not carried out to the fullest extent possible a 1972 desegregation plan that was ordered in Bradley v. City of Richmond.

While the city and state claim there is a lack of funds for the Richmond schools, “millions of dollars have been spent on the educational activities of a magnet school in an all-white suburb” outside the predominantly black city, the organization said.

A version of this article appeared in the April 11, 1984 edition of Education Week as Judge Removes Suburbs From Kansas City Desegregation Suit