This essay examines the continuing struggle that centers around whether this country will allow public elementary and secondary school officials to use race-conscious, and sometimes aggressive, tools to eliminate the continuing presence of predominantly single race schools in most of our urban centers. Despite the promise of Brown v. Board of Education, the efforts to desegregate schools in some areas of America appear to have eliminated only the legal barriers to truly integrated schools. Many school systems have simply resegregated through demographic shifts prompted by urban decay and "white flight." In Missouri v. Jenkins, the Supreme Court struck down certain district court-ordered remedies designed to attract non-minority students to the Kansas City, Missouri School District ("KCMSD"). In this decision, a sharply divided Court once again confronted the problem of what local school districts can be compelled to do to eliminate the problem of past discrimination. By weakening the power of the federal courts to order aggressive remedies, the Supreme Court has clearly indicated that it intends to abandon its commitment to desegregating public schools, seemingly joining the political opposition to busing, magnet school programs, and other educational reforms that have already compromised the promise that schools should be desegregated with "all deliberate speed." The real tragedy of the Supreme Court's decision in Jenkins is that it is likely to have a chilling effect on school officials trying to achieve desegregation, and federal judges and litigants attempting to draft plans that are designed to facilitate that goal.
The struggles encountered in achieving legal recognition of the impropriety of de jure segregation suggest that the high cost that has already been paid by so many should encourage our nation to continue to push aggressively toward the goal of integration. My view is that we must pursue integration even while acknowledging recent failures that have led some to call for the abandonment of techniques designed to integrate public schools. It is my hope that those decision makers who are attempting to continue efforts to desegregate will not be discouraged by the Supreme Court's most recent reduction of the power of the federal courts to advance efforts to achieve desegregated education. This nation should press forward with good faith efforts to integrate the public schools despite the challenges that might lead some educational policy makers to abandon that goal. Failure to do so will result in the erosion of public education for all. Such a consequence we can hardly afford.
Before I offer my thoughts on integration and the Supreme Court's decision in Jenkins, it seems appropriate that I should disclose something of my background and experience. I am of African-American and Filipino heritage and am the product of the integrated schools of a majority white public school district. I would characterize my public educational experience as good, but certainly not perfect. My elementary and secondary education occurred while the schools I attended were trying to adjust to the challenges of desegregation. I encountered some parents, teachers, and students who were uncomfortable with the mixed-race classroom, but there were also many people of good faith who worked toward making an unfamiliar setting comfortable for all. Consequently, my integrated education was more beneficial than it was harmful. My experience cannot, of course, stand alone as reason to endorse aggressive plans to integrate public school systems; but my experience does tell me that to abandon all such efforts would be premature. It is with such a view and, if you will, with such a bias that I approach the concept of integration and challenge the Supreme Court's opinion in Jenkins.
Perspectives on Missouri v. Jenkins: Abandoning the Unfinished Business of Public School Desegregation With All Deliberate Speed, 39 Howard Law Journal 693 (1996).