The Supreme Court last term resurrected “separate but equal” in our schools. Because of the Court’s ruling in Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1 and Meredith v. Jefferson County Board of Education, schools risk becoming more segregated, and children of all races will likely have fewer opportunities to learn together and become prepared to live and work in a diverse world.
Parents Involved in Community Schools involved a challenge to student admission plans in school districts in both Seattle, Washington and Louisville, Kentucky. Concerned about how racial isolation was affecting their own children and community, locally-elected school boards in Louisville and Seattle had adopted student assignment measures to foster integrated, diverse schools. The voluntary plans used modest measures to promote integration while prioritizing parental choice and community schools. As part of the plans, the school districts looked at race as a factor in determining whether or not to transfer a student. The programs in both Seattle and Louisville had been upheld by lower courts and were similar to programs in many school districts across the country.
But in a 5-4 decision, the Court held that the programs were unconstitutional because they violated the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause in the 14th Amendment. The Court held that using race as a factor in assigning children to schools was discriminatory and could not be justified. The Court’s decision went against the tradition of Brown v. Board of Education, which declared ‘separate but equal’ unconstitutional and held that all students have a right to attend integrated schools. As a result, school districts will find it incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to assign children to schools in a way that ensures diversity. Schools are once again becoming segregated by race as they were before Brown.