Appellate Court Refuses To Declare Topeka Unitary

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The Topeka, Kan., school district must remain under federal court supervision because it has failed to prove that it has rid itself of the remnants of racial segregation, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit has ruled for the second time.

The U.S. Supreme Court, citing its recent school-desegregation decisions involving the Oklahoma City and DeKalb County, Ga., public schools, last year had ordered the 10th Circuit Court to re-examine its 1989 finding that the Topeka district remains segregated.

Lawyers have predicted that the High Court's decisions in Freeman v. Pitts last March and in Board of Education of Oklahoma City v. Dowell in 1991 will ease the way for districts to win relief from court supervision.

But two members of a three-judge panel of the 10th Circuit Court ruled last week that neither case presented grounds for finding the Topeka district unitary, or fully desegregated.

Although the Freeman decision said districts do not have to remedy racial imbalances caused by demographic changes, it left districts with the burden of proving that their actions did not contribute to the imbalances, the judges said.

The Topeka district, they concluded, has done little to fulfill its duty to desegregate that was first imposed on it in the 1954 landmark ruling in the ongoing case, Brown v. Board of Education.

'Expecting Too Much'

The majority said the district cannot evade responsibility for current racial isolation in its schools simply because it has not actively segregated black and white students since 1954.

To expect the vestiges of segregation to "magically dissolve'' with so little effort "is to expect too much,'' the judges wrote. The school system failed to demonstrate that its past policies were not responsible for the continued racial isolation that prompted black parents to reopen the case in 1979, they said.

Moreover, the panel said, the district has failed to provide evidence of good faith by, for example, demonstrating a commitment to continued integration.

The majority added that a lower court erred in ruling that plaintiffs in such cases bear the burden of proving that illegal segregation persists in the district. Instead, it said, the district must prove it has wiped out the vestiges of its past acts.

Vol. 12, Issue 09

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