The Lingering Issue of Integration

Education Supreme Court

            New Orleans        Integration is hardly one of those fights that is won and done.  Living in the South especially, no one is that surprised when they read that cases filed in the 50s and 60s have continued to bounce back and forth in various courts as school districts continue to try and prove that they have in fact created racially integrated schools.  Before being caught in the wayback machine, there are some that are starting the fight anew, and that’s worth following, because the problem persists in community after community, city after city.


A new group called Brown’s Promise, taking its name after the path-breaking Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, is picking up the standard to carry the fight forward once again.  It won’t be easy and, even if successful, is likely to be a slog, but it’s hard to argue that this isn’t a continuing issue.  For example, as the Wall Street Journal reports, “A 2020 analysis by the Civil Rights Project at the University of California, Los Angeles found that 40% of Black students attended schools that were 90% or more nonwhite.”  In big cities around the country, that’s more likely the story than any other, regardless of the overall demographics.


Lawsuits have been filed and are in various stages in Minnesota and New Jersey.  In New Jersey, the case is active and in mediation.  In Minnesota, the case there has been remanded to a lower court where plaintiffs will have to prove that racial “imbalances” contribute to “inadequate education,” which seems a bit like déjà vu all over again.  Interestingly, schools are generally more segregated in the Northeast and Midwest, but no region of the country can earn any trophies on this score.


All of this is also complicated by self-selection and segregation in charter schools, which regularly are on the wrong side of federal and state policies on open records and meetings, special education, equal employment, and of course crazy admissions policies.  Reportedly, Brown’s Promise is staying away from the fever storm of mandated busing, but does advocate more magnet schools and voluntary transfer programs.  I’m not exactly sure how that would fix what is broken.  Some districts like New York City and New Orleans are almost citywide “magnet” programs in the sense that they allow applications from families to any schools within the district.  An application does not equal admissions, so there’s work that needs to be done there.  Looking at the testing programs for special schools is another hot button issue worth a look.


It’s a laudatory effort, even if there will be some culture wars involved.  At the same time, it’s hard to believe that the courts will be a friendly venue to win more class and racial diversity in our schools.  The Supreme Court now is a different animal from the Brown court, and seems confused on whether or not racial discrimination still exists, much less whether more integration is a good thing or not.  Brown also came out of a climate of increasing struggle around racial issues in public facilities.  Without real community pressure and campaigns for addressing these lingering issues, it’s hard to image the courts riding in to save the day.


These cases and this organization are worth watching, but there are, sadly, still many mountains to climb