Today's Supreme Court decision undermining Jefferson County’s student assignment plan, adopted after a federal court of appeals ruled in 1975 that our schools were racially segregated, is a massive step backwards for all of our parents and children who prize educational excellence.
The 1975 lawsuit was brought by the Kentucky Civil Liberties Union and then merged with another brought by the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights. The reason the lawsuit was brought was that Louisville and Jefferson County public schools were racially identifiable. That is, you could look at a school’s student population and identify it as white or black by the racial preponderance in a specific school.
Experience has shown that segregating students in this manner insures inequity to the student population with the fewest resources. For example, white students in white schools disproportionately came from relatively financially secure families. However black students in black schools came disproportionately from families with fewer financial resources.
This inequity translated into unequal school resources. For example, when the lawsuit was filed, Central High School had broken or missing seats in its auditorium. Many of its windows were broken, and there was no vegetation surrounding the school. After U.S. District Court Judge James Gordon ruled that the board must design a student assignment plan that allowed schools to escape from the racially identifiable tag, white parents whose children would be bused to Central got busy, and voilà! Almost overnight the chairs had seats, the broken windows were replaced, and trees were planted on the school playground.
Maybe more important, students who had had no experience with kids of different races were going to the same classes together. The busing plan, which was implemented three years after the filing of the lawsuit, was one that the majority of this county’s population soon endorsed.
Yes, there was white flight, and some kids left public school altogether. But the vast majority stayed, and after a tense opening, and some minor problems related to the busing of students, the plan was accepted by our community. The present Supreme Court’s treatment of Brown v. Board of Education — in which the Supreme Court ruled in 1954 that “separate was not equal” when it came to the delivery of public education — is in a word, despicable.
This decision will undo years of good community relations among different races in our city, it will adulterate our educational goals once again, and it will be a tragic step back to a time when we lived segregated lives, with segregated schools and segregated relationships.
Make no mistake: Black, white, Latino and Asians interacting on a daily basis has a profound relationship to the vitality of our community and to positive community growth. Just as immigration has made this country vibrant, so has integrated education made it more possible. We will not be grateful for this decision or for the capriciousness of the lawsuit that produced this outcome. Tragic may be too dramatic an adjective to use in describing this giant step backward, but to my mind, it fits.