Court Declines Review of San Jose Desegregation Suit

Article Tools
  • PrintPrinter-Friendly
  • EmailEmail Article
  • ReprintReprints
  • CommentsComments

Washington--The U.S. Supreme Court declined last week to review a federal appeals court's ruling that San Jose, Calif., school officials' strict adherence to a neighborhood-school policy, in combination with other actions, resulted in the unlawful segregation of most of the district's Hispanic students.

Acting on the only school-desegregation case presented to it thus far in its current term, the Court, without comment, let stand a May 1984 decision by an 11-member panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

San Jose officials had argued in papers filed with the Justices that the ruling, if allowed to stand, would doom neighborhood schools in many of the nation's metropolitan areas.

Neighborhood Schools

The Ninth Circuit Court panel ruled 8 to 3 in the 14-year-old case, San Jose Unified School District v. Diaz (Case No. 84-1417) that the neighborhood-school policy was not unconstitutional in and of itself. But when viewed in combination with the school board's decisions regarding school closings, school construction, and the retention of Hispanic students in overcrowded schools while predominantly white schools operated below capacity, a pattern of intentional discrimination3emerged, the appeals panel said.

Taken together, the appeals court said, the board's actions "are not merely decisions enforcing a neighborhood-school policy."

"Rather, they are decisions that may determine whether the prescribed neighborhood attendance areas will be integrated or segregated," it continued. "In almost every instance, the board chose to turn toward segregation rather than away from it." (See Education Week, May 30, 1984.)

Racial Imbalance Admitted

Approximately 60 percent of the district's 31,000 students are white, 30 percent are Hispanic, and the remainder are black or Asian.

From the beginning of the case, San Jose officials admitted that the schools in the crescent-shaped, 16-mile-long district were not racially balanced, with Hispanic students concentrated in the older northern section of the district and white students concentrated in the southern suburbs.

School-district officials contended, however, that the imbalance was due to what they claimed was the district's racially neutral neighborhood-school policy, together with its demographic and residential patterns.

A federal district court agreed with the school officials in a decision handed down in 1976. On appeal, a divided three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court vacated the ruling and sent the case back for a rehearing in light of the then-recent decisions by the Supreme Court in desegregation suits involving the public schools in Columbus and Dayton, Ohio.

The federal district judge upheld the school district's policy for a second time in 1981, saying that he found no "evidence of manipulation or bad faith in [its] adoption and maintenance." A divided three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court upheld the ruling on the second appeal in 1983, and that ruling was reversed in turn by the 11-member panel last year.

The case now returns to U.S. District Judge Robert F. Peckham, who will be responsible for the development of a plan to desegregate the district. San Jose officials said last week that they will propose the expansion of the district's four-year-old magnet-school program and voluntary majority-to-minority student transfers.

Other Desegregation Activity

Los Angeles: The Justice Department recently informed the Los Angeles Unified School District that it was investigating allegations that Hispanic students in the school district are receiving a lower-quality education than that provided to white students.

In a letter mailed to district officials on Feb. 26 and made public last week, William Bradford Reynolds, head of the department's civil-rights division, said the department has received complaints that Hispanic children have been assigned to "severely overcrowded schools," that such students are required to attend those schools on a year-round basis, and that they "generally are provided fewer opportunities and resources than the district's [white] students."

According to press reports, the investigation stemmed from complaints filed with the department in 1981 by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund. The reports noted that Mr. Reynolds asked the district to provide his office with maps showing the precise boundaries of the district's 644 attendance areas; descriptions of the district's student-assignment and transfer policies; copies of any studies on overcrowding; racial and ethnic surveys of each school in the district, covering both students and faculty; and reports on curricula, dropout rates, attendance figures, and standardized-test results for each school.

Kansas City, Mo.: The State of Missouri last week presented a federal district judge with a $40.6-million desegregation plan for the Kansas City public schools. The amount of money earmarked by the state for desegregation in the 36,000-student district, which is 68 percent black, is more than four times the amount it proposed in a plan rejected by U.S. District Judge Russell Clark in February.

According to a spokesman for the state attorney general's office, the state proposed spending no more than $40.6 million over the life of the plan. The funds would be used for the repair and renovation of school buildings, the improvement of educational programs, and student transportation within the Kansas City district only.

Last January, the city school board presented Judge Clark with a proposal calling for the merger of the predominantly black district with 11 predominantly suburban districts. Late that month, the judge rejected the plan, which would have cost more than $60 million in its first year alone, as overly broad.

The board presented him with a new plan in February, proposing ed-ucational improvements in schools that are now more than 90 percent black and allowing voluntary cross-district student transfers to improve racial balance in the city's schools.

Jacksonville, Fla.: The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People filed suit in federal district court last month against the Duval County, Fla., school board, alleging that the board is allowing its schools to become resegregated.

In a prepared statement, the civil-rights group claimed the school board "is currently substantially overutilizing many white racially identifiable schools while underutilizing far-better-integrated inner-city schools."

"It is critical that school districts take all affirmative steps not to resegregate," said Grover G. Hankins, the naacp's general counsel, in the statement. Mr. Hankins said he had offered to meet with Duval County school officials "to work out a new plan for student and staff assignment so as to ensure the continued integration of students and staff and the rational use of school facilities."

Vol. 04, Issue 33

Notice: We recently upgraded our comments. (Learn more here.) If you are logged in as a subscriber or registered user and already have a Display Name on, you can post comments. If you do not already have a Display Name, please create one here.
Ground Rules for Posting
We encourage lively debate, but please be respectful of others. Profanity and personal attacks are prohibited. By commenting, you are agreeing to abide by our user agreement.
All comments are public.

Back to Top Back to Top

Most Popular Stories