Wild Cards: SCOTUS, LAUSD, Connerly and Our Kids

July 7, 2007 at 11:36 am in Education

The big question on the minds of educators and parents nationwide is, “What does Parents vs. Seattle School District have to do with me?” Locally, the question gets more nuanced, and can be framed, “How does Parents vs. Seattle School District affect (if at all) the case of Crawford v. Board of Ed. of Los Angeles, Proposition 209, and the current lawsuit being levied on LAUSD by Ward Connelly (author of the aformentioned 209), magnet programs, and schools generally?”

Knowing the history of attempts at desegregation in Los Angeles is going to place this idea in context; no SCOTUS case ever stands on its own. Let’s start with a quick history lesson, using this 2003 article by David S. Ettinger [link to PDF on LA Co. Bar Assoc. page].

The first major court case worth consideration by Ettinger was the 1963 California Supreme Court case, Jackson v. Pasadena City School District, which found that school boards needed to integrate–they were violating civil rights whether they were deliberately segregating or not. The crux of the case hinged on a single phrase: The school board needed to take “reasonably feasible” steps to desegregate. Soon, integration methods were decried as “unreasonable,” and bussing fell into this category.

Thereafter, the article focuses mainly on the 1963 Appellate Court case of Crawford vs. Board of Education of the city of Los Angeles, which more or less advocated for voluntary “reassignment and busing plans.” Then:

While the Crawford appeal was pending, the U.S. Supreme Court made clear that, at least for purposes of the U.S. Constitution, a court could order a school board to remedy only de jure segregation–that is, segregation effected by state action. If the state had not caused the segregation, it did not have to fix it. Further, the Supreme Court defined “de jure” narrowly….”We emphasize,” the Court said, “that the differentiating factor between de jure segregation and so-called de facto segregation…is purpose or intent to segregate.”

You can read the entire Ettinger article for claims that the school board did, in fact, intentionally segregate schools by gerrymandering the districts. I won’t waste your time by telling you things you already know. I will share the best line in the article: “An attorney who was a proponent of the desegregation plan said that ‘the racists on the school board are drowning in their own champagne.'” Indeed.

These two findings are clearly at odds with one another: Do we follow the California Supreme Court and desegregate? Or do we follow the SCOTUS and avoid it? LAUSD (and all/most schools in California) have been working to fulfill the decree handed down by our own courts since 1963. Anyone familiar with LAUSD can tell you that their efforts have been quite far from perfect. Before pointing at LAUSD’s shortcomings, however, it is necessary to point out that ameliorating de facto segregation requires a lot more planning and systematic execution; it is not sufficient to open the schoolhouse doors: busing and magnet schools have been the products of LA’s  desegregation efforts.

This is precisely where the confusion in regards to Parents vs. Seattle School District really manifests itself.

As many (including Warren Olney) have pointed out, the repercussions for LAUSD are unclear. In Parents vs. Seattle School District, the crux is that the district has never been “subject to court-ordered desegregation,” but instead “classified children as white or nonwhite, and used the racial classifications as a ‘tiebreaker’ to allocate slots in particular high schools.”

Looking back, it seems like the long-gone LAUSD board implemented ineffective integration techniques more to comply with the letter, if not the spirit, of the CSC ruling. In a city as racially diverse as LA, attacks on integration may seem like political poison.

Let us not forget another Joker in this deck: Ward Connerly, whose case went to trial last Friday. He is attacking the busing and magnet programs, declaring them a violation of Proposition 209. Forget that the magnet programs are entirely voluntary. Also forget this article written by a former board member. Are magnets indeed the only thing keeping white folks in public schools? I can tell you one thing: At my school, we have ONE white kid. He is not in one of the magnets. Perhaps the school board will be drowning in champagne soon.

The future of LAUSD integration may be to use class- and income-based rather than race-based criteria. It would be hard to argue against socialized education, since doing so would require an ontological denial of the public school system.

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