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School Integration Efforts Three Years After "Parents Involved"

Authors: Adai Tefera, Genevieve Siegel-Hawley, Erica Frankenberg
Date Published: June 28, 2010

We know more than ever about the importance of preventing racially segregated schools and the benefits that students—and society—receive from diverse schools. In fact, the Supreme Court, in its 2007 decision, acknowledged this evidence as “compelling” reasons for districts to adopt policies to further integration.
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Three years ago this week, the U.S. Supreme Court released its 5-4 decision overturning Louisville and Seattle’s voluntarily implemented integration plans and threatening many voluntary plans across the country, the type of plans courts had encouraged for many years.  The Parents Involved decision, issued on June 28, 2007, reflected a divided Supreme Court with four justices strongly supporting these voluntary plans and four justices strongly opposed. Justice Kennedy’s opinion decided the issues and explicitly accepted some kinds of desegregation efforts. The divided decision confused many educators and it was somewhat unclear what did remain legal.  In 2008, the Bush Administration sent a letter to school districts misguidedly interpreting the Parents Involved decision in a way that suggested only race-neutral means of pursuing integration would be legal. This was an inaccurate description of Kennedy’s controlling opinion and suggested that school authorities should abandon all efforts to intentionally pursue integration. As President Barack Obama took office, civil rights groups and other stakeholders anticipated that his administration would be more supportive of integration efforts, including issuing new guidance to replace that from 2008.  Yet, well into the second year of the Obama Administration (which announced earlier this year that it would reinvigorate the Office of Civil Rights) no such guidance about voluntary integration has been issued. From our contacts with school districts across the country, we believe that this guidance is much needed.
In addition to these legal and policy constraints and the opportunities and challenges presented by rapidly shifting demographics in the nation’s public schools, school districts, like other governmental bodies, face significant financial pressure in the wake of declining revenues stemming from the economic crisis.  This economic pressure is forcing school districts to make deep cuts in services, which is another potential constraint for integration efforts.


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