Topeka Schools Not Discriminatory, Judge Rules

April 15, 1987 2 min read

Ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, the historic school-desegregation case, a federal-court judge has decided that the Topeka, Kan., public school district does not discriminate against minorities.

The plaintiffs--who included Linda Brown Smith, whose father gave the case its name when he sued the school board on her behalf more than 30 years ago--had charged that local school officials and the state board of education had failed to effectively desegregate the city’s schools.

But U.S. District Judge Richard D. Rogers rejected the argument, ruling in a 50-page opinion last Thursday that the school board had adequately eliminated all traces of racial segregation in the schools.

The Topeka system “provides a high-quality educational opportunity to its students on a non-discriminatory basis,’' Mr. Rogers wrote. “There is no significant or consistent disparity in the faculty and staff, facilities, transportation, or extracurricular activities available to students.’'

“Students are assigned to schools on a race-neutral basis,’' the judge added.

The plaintiffs had argued, for example, that four of the city’s elementary schools had minority enrollments of more than 50 percent last year, although students from minority groups constituted only 26 percent of the district’s total enrollment.

Lawyers for the school district countered that the enrollment figures reflect housing patterns.

Richard Jones, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said he was surprised by Judge Rogers’s ruling, since the judge had ruled that many schools were disroportionately white or minority.

But Judge Rogers was “unable to discern an intent to foster segregation,’' Mr. Jones said.

However, he added, “Schools continue to have a certain level of segregation. Those kinds of things don’t happen unless someone tries to do them.’'

Mr. Jones said the plaintiffs have not yet decided whether to appeal the ruling.

In 1954, in a case that combined Brown with four similar suits from other states, the U.S. Supreme Court declared the principle of “separate but equal’’ schools for black students to be unconstitutional.

The case was never officially closed, however, and the parents of 17 black students in Topeka began pressing for a new trial in 1979.

According to Gary Sebelius, a lawyer for the Topeka school board, Judge Rogers did not recommend any changes in the way the Topeka board operates its schools, The Associated Press reported.

Howard Ward, president of the Topeka board of education, said he was “relieved’’ by the judge’s ruling.

“It is a relief to have a federal court confirm that one’s school system is in compliance with the law and with the U.S. Constitution,’' Mr. Ward said in an interview. "... We truly try to treat all students equally, and he [the judge] confirms that in his opinion.’'

“Basically,’' he added, “we have a fundamental policy that when we make changes in the district, we want them to be a step forward.’'

A version of this article appeared in the April 15, 1987 edition of Education Week as Topeka Schools Not Discriminatory, Judge Rules