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Supreme Court ruling creates questions for Topeka’s schools


A recent U.S. Supreme Court decision could force the public school system here to modify the policies it has used for a decade to keep individual schools racially balanced, attorneys say.

Since the 1990s, the Topeka district has permitted students to transfer from their neighborhood schools to others when it helps improve racial diversity. It also built three elementary “magnet” schools to attract students from across the city.

The transfer policy and the magnet schools were part of the district’s plan for countering housing patterns that had left neighborhood schools too segregated. The plan was a response to parents reopening the Brown v. Board of Education lawsuit that led to the Supreme Court’s historic 1954 decision declaring segregated schools unconstitutional.

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that public schools can’t use race as a factor in deciding where students will attend classes. At issue were desegregation plans in Seattle and Louisville, Ky.

“It looks like you’re not allowed to do that anymore,” Carl Gallagher, a Kansas City, Kan., attorney who represented the state during the later Brown litigation, said of the Topeka district’s policy.

Bill Rich, a Washburn University law professor who advised parents in the reopened Brown case, agreed.

“The board of education will no longer be able to use race as a deciding factor for whether a student can transfer to another school,” Rich told The Topeka Capital-Journal. “It will be more difficult to prevent resegregation.”

Joe Zima, the Topeka school board’s attorney, said he’s still reviewing the Supreme Court’s opinion.

He said Topeka’s system for assigning students focuses more on testing, while Seattle and Louisville had a “blanket” policy based on race.

And Rich said the Supreme Court decision left open the possibility of other measures, such as economic status, for improving diversity.

The original Brown lawsuit was in 1951, taking its name from Linda Brown, whose father tried to enroll her in an all-white school nearest her home but couldn’t. Other black parents also tried to enroll their children in white schools as part of an effort by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People to challenge the segregation in elementary schools.

In 1979, 25 years after the Brown ruling, parents reopened the case. While the district argued that racial imbalances in individual schools resulted from housing patterns it couldn’t control, the parents successfully argued that the district hadn’t done enough to achieve diversity.

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Information from: The Topeka Capital-Journal,

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