• Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Supreme Court held that federal district courts may end court-supervised busing plans when the “effects of past intentional discrimination” have been removed “as far as practicable” and a local school board has complied with a desegregation order for a “reasonable period of time.”

In 1985 the Oklahoma City school district requested dissolution of a desegregation decree that had been in effect for nineteen years. Approving the request, the district judge observed that the school board had done nothing to promote residential segregation for twenty-five years and that it had bused students in good faith for more than a decade. The court of appeals reversed the judgment because the majority of children in the district continued to attend one-race schools, reflecting demographic residential patterns mostly developed after the decree had gone into effect. By a 5-3 vote, the Court ruled in favor of the district judge’s decision. Chief Justice William H. RehnquistRehnquist, William H.;Board of Education of Oklahoma City v. Dowell[Board of Education of Oklahoma City v. Dowell] argued that desegregation decrees had never been intended to “operate in perpetuity” and that the tradition of local control over public schools justified the dissolution of court-supervised desegregation plans as long as present residential segregation was a result of private decisions and economic factors rather than official policies.School integration and busing;Board of Education of Oklahoma City v. Dowell[Board of Education of Oklahoma City v. Dowell]

The Court amplified the Dowell decision in Freeman v. Pitts[case]Freeman v. Pitts[Freeman v. Pitts] (1992), holding that district judges have discretion to withdraw supervision of school districts once officials have shown good faith compliance with a court-ordered desegregation plan, even if some vestiges of de jure segregation continued.

Missouri v. Jenkins

Race and discrimination

School integration and busing

Segregation, de facto

State action

Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education

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