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K-12 Voluntary Integration

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7/07/10
Education | School Integration

Since the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education, parents and community leaders have repeatedly petitioned courts throughout the country, demanding that the judiciary give life and meaning to Brown by ordering wayward school districts to dismantle their racially segregated school systems. In the face of great resistance, and sometimes violence, these leaders valiantly insisted that their children’s schools act to eliminate the stubborn, persistent vestiges of racial discrimination and that we, as a country, live up to our nation’s highest ideals of equality for all.

In more recent years, again urged by parents and activists, many school districts have recognized the value of racial and ethnic diversity and its important influence on educating our future citizens. A number of these school districts, as a result, have voluntarily adopted policies and student assignment methods designed to promote racial integration in their schools. In other words, more and more school districts are working to further racial diversity, not out of legal obligation, but of their own accord, as a core part of their educational mission. They do so in recognition of the critical role of schools in fostering racial and ethnic harmony and strengthening our multiracial democracy. This development is without a doubt an encouraging one, as communities across the nation struggle to provide a high quality, inclusive education for all children.

On June 28, 2007, the Supreme Court issued a much anticipated and sharply divided 185-page ruling in two cases challenging the voluntary integration plans in Seattle, Washington and Louisville, Kentucky. A majority of the Justices recognized the importance of diversity and avoiding racial isolation in K-12 public schools, but the Court struck down particular aspects of the Seattle and Louisville student assignment plans because they were not, in its view, sufficiently well designed to achieve those goals. Significantly, while the Court placed limits on the ability of school districts to take account of race, it did not—as some reported—rule out any and all consideration of race in student assignment. In fact, a majority of Justices explicitly left the window open for school districts to take race-conscious measures to promote diversity and avoid racial isolation in schools.