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Will Landmark 1954 Brown v. Topeka Kansas Be Overturned?

In 1896, the Plessey v. Ferguson court decision established the “separate but equal” doctrine, allowing that it was legal and fair to separate public school students by race and color as long as the education given was “equal”.

As history has shown, the education was seldom fair or equal. Thus, in 1954 the landmark court decision of Brown v. Topeka Kansas struck down the 1896 decision. It outlawed racial segregation of public school students, ushering in the desegregation of public school institutions across the nation from elementary through college. Public schools were ordered by federal mandate to use race to equitably assign children to public schools; thus, eliminating the segregation that previously was determined by neighborhood residency.

Today, there are two cases in the U.S. Supreme Court that challenge local public school board policies in Louisville and Seattle. The Bush Administration has publicly agreed with the parents, who brought the lawsuits that are in favor of desegregating these schools districts.

The lawsuits argue that desegregation policies are well-intentioned but not constitutional. In order to be legal, desegregation policies must be based on a “persuasive good reason”. The two lawsuits contend that no persuasive good reason exists in the Louisville and Seattle school districts, with the Louisville brief citing that “a well-intentioned quota is still a quota”.

Many are sitting back and watching the outcome of these two Supreme Court cases. If the court decides in favor of the parents, the ruling could possibly affect 400 school districts in 17 states, which continue under court-ordered desegregation.

Why do these parents and those against desegregation believe that now is the time to overturn Brown v. Topeka Kansas?

First, the Bush Administration has publicly supported not only these public school cases but other lawsuits, as well, that seek to eliminate federal-mandated racial equity in business.

Second, Harvard University’s Civil Rights Project has shown that public schools across America have been resegregating during this century. Patterns of segregation exist at all levels of public education — district, state, regional and national levels.

One key finding of the study is that white students are the most segregated of public school students, attending schools that are at least 80 percent white.

With the onslaught of school vouchers, charter and alternative schools, as well as increased immigration into the United States, more and more white parents are sending their children away from the public school system for their education; thus, the public schools nationally are now approaching 40 percent minority enrollment — nearly twice the amount of minority students enrolled in public schools in the 1960s.

In 1974, the Supreme Court decision of Milliken v. Bradley banned desegregation efforts between city and suburban areas in metropolitan Detroit — a third reason for the general public to believe that Brown v. Topeka Kansas may be overturned and another key finding of the Harvard study.

Since the Milliken v. Bradley decision, many of the larger cities have suffered with segregation within their urban areas, with mostly minorities populating those sections of the cities. For example, 27 of the largest urban public school systems serve a fourth of their black and Latino student populations.

Fourth reason, the Harvard study also found that even in desegregated public school systems in the United States, black students are segregated through student tracking and biased testing.

America touts itself as a colorblind society within this century; yet, many minorities across the nation continue to experience a lack of quality, educational resources that are enjoyed by most white students. Many federal and state public school funding formulas ignore the segregation resource issues, adding to the unequitable and lack of resources for primarily minority public schools.

Big business, both domestic and abroad, already has succeeded to some degree (with government support) in eroding the democratic right that everyone, regardless of race, color, creed or religion, has a right to work. Now, our public school systems are under attack. If the Supreme Court rules in favor of the parents in these two cases, we could very well see ourselves back in the turbulent times of the 1950s.

About the Author: Patricia Hawke is a staff writer for Schools K-12, providing free, in-depth reports on all U.S. public and private K-12 schools. Patricia has a nose for research and writes stimulating news and views on school issues. For more information on schools visit

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