The Corner

Too Much of a Good Thing

During the 1960s and ’70s, hundreds of school-desegregation decrees were put in place, especially in the South, and rightly so. But the Supreme Court has warned that these decrees are not to stay in place forever. Normally local school districts, not federal judges, are supposed to run the schools; dissolving a desegregation decree when the school system is fully desegregated will not allow schools to readopt Jim Crow policies (the Fourteenth Amendment does not expire), but it will allow districts more flexibility with regard to charter schools and other student-assignment issues. 

One problem that has arisen in particular is the tension between these ancient decrees (which spell out rigidly which students can go to which schools) and needed reforms that allow students to transfer out of failing schools (as No Child Left Behind, for example, does). Well, the Huffington Post has pointed out a recent instance of this problem, where a 1960s-era decree has prompted school officials in one Louisiana district to warn students that they can’t transfer out of a failing school if they are the wrong color (in this case, white).

Now is a good time for judges to review any such decrees they have on their dockets, so that school districts can make informed and commonsensical decisions before school starts up again. The Center for Equal Opportunity has periodically written to all judges who have such cases on their dockets, and urged them to see if dismissal is appropriate (and, indeed, we wrote to the court in this particular case in October 2009, and received a response indicating — incorrectly, it would seem — that the case was considered to have been closed already). We set out the reasons why such a review makes sense; you can read a sample letter here. The federal government is typically a party to these cases, by the way, and the Bush administration did a better job of moving these cases along than the Obama administration has.

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