Racial Diversity in Public Schools

September 14, 2007 • Volume 17, Issue 32
Has the Supreme Court dealt a blow to integration?
By Kenneth Jost

Introduction

Deborah Stallworth successfully challenged a race-based school integration plan in Louisville that barred her son, Austin, 15, from attending his neighborhood school and sought to bus him across town.  (AP Photo/Brian Bohannon)
Deborah Stallworth successfully challenged a race-based school integration plan in Louisville that barred her son, Austin, 15, from attending his neighborhood school and sought to bus him across town. (AP Photo/Brian Bohannon)

Fifty years after the Supreme Court outlawed racial segregation in public schools, a new ruling has raised doubts about how far local school boards can go to integrate classrooms. The court's 5-4 ruling in cases from Seattle and Louisville bars school districts from using race as a factor in individual pupil assignments. Like many other school districts, the two school systems used racial classifications to promote diversity in the face of segregated housing patterns. But parents argued the plans improperly denied their children their school of choice because of race. Dissenting justices said the ruling was a setback for racial equality. In a pivotal concurrence, however, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy said schools still have some leeway to pursue racial diversity. Meanwhile, some experts argue that socioeconomic integration — bringing low-income and middle-class students together — is a more effective way to pursue educational equity.

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