Study Shows Ongoing Legal Segregation Across States, 70 Years After Brown v. Board of Education

After seventy years since the landmark ruling of the Supreme Court that prohibited the segregation of public school children based on race, a recent report sheds light on how elite public schools manage to exclude all but the most privileged families legally.

In a groundbreaking analysis by the non-profit organizations Available to All and Bellwether, a state-by-state breakdown reveals troubling laws, loopholes, and trends that undermine the principles of Brown v. Board, where the Supreme Court declared that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal” and violate the Fourteenth Amendment.

Currently, public schools are not obligated to justify or demonstrate the reasons for denying a student enrollment, leading to practices where Black, brown, low-income, and disabled students are frequently excluded without repercussions, as administrators strive to fill classrooms with students deemed “easier to educate.”

The report contends that discrimination is perpetuated through the use – and even mandatory enforcement in four states – of school attendance zones, which often mirror historically racist housing maps from the 1930s, segregating children based on their home addresses. Some schools even employ private investigators to enforce zone boundaries and penalize parents who share addresses outside their designated zone.

Furthermore, the report highlights the urgent need to reform the impact of home addresses on educational prospects, especially as many districts consider closures and consolidations, disproportionately affecting Black, brown, and low-income students.

In the aftermath of Brown v. Board, courts dismantled explicit racial segregation, particularly in the southern states. However, the promise of equal access to public schools for all individuals remains unfulfilled, with systemic factors perpetuating advantages for the affluent and those residing in privileged neighborhoods.

The report advocates for enhanced legal safeguards, such as mandating open enrollment zones within a 3-mile radius, reserving seats for nonresident families, transparently publishing enrollment data and decisions, and implementing lotteries when schools reach capacity, a common practice in public charter schools.

It also offers a comprehensive legal overview of each state’s stance on public school admissions laws, with disparities in appeal procedures evident across different jurisdictions.

In Tampa, for instance, a predominantly Black elementary school with an 11% grade level reading proficiency closed, redirecting students to other underperforming schools based on capacity constraints while overlooking nearby schools with higher success rates, showcasing clear exclusion practices.

The prevalence of exclusion disproportionately affects low-income students, students of color, and those with disabilities. The lack of transparency in admission decisions allows for unchecked discrimination, with some districts using unverified capacity claims to prevent disadvantaged students from enrolling.

Amidst these challenges, efforts to rectify discriminatory practices face obstacles, as witnessed in instances like in Philadelphia, where residency fraud allegations disproportionately impact low-income and Black students without a clear avenue for appeals.

Addressing these inequities requires considerable changes, as exemplified by the struggle in Chicago to redraw attendance zone lines to promote diversity and access to quality education for all students, irrespective of socioeconomic background.

Available to All proposes inclusive measures like reserving seats for nonresident families and employing lotteries to mitigate the impact of attendance boundaries on access to quality education, aiming to dismantle systemic segregation deeply embedded in the education system.

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