Debate Over Segregation in Schools to Hit Supreme Court Today

ByABC News via logo

Dec. 4. 2006 —, 2006 -- The Supreme Court will hear arguments today in two cases involving one of the most highly charged debates in the nation: segregation in schools.

The question the court will examine is whether race should matter when it comes to deciding which kids attend which schools.

Parents in Seattle and Louisville, Ky., are challenging school boards that factor in a child's race when attempting to adjust the racial mix of individual schools so they mirror the entire school system.

Segregation in schools is on the rise.

Of the nation's 15,000 school districts, about 400 across 17 states are under court orders to desegregate.

People have been camping out in front of the Supreme Court overnight, hoping to win a seat in the courtroom for these hearings.

Kathleen Brose's 14-year-old daughter was turned away from her neighborhood school in Seattle after the district effectively issued a stark decree: no more white students allowed.

Brose, who is the president of the group Parents Involved in Community Schools, calls it discrimination.

"There's enough angst in their lives as teenagers and to be told they have the wrong skin color after they have been told in school that discrimination is wrong, well, it kinda sends a mixed message to those students," Brose said.

In school districts across the country, integration programs can mean long bus rides when neighborhood schools have reached their self-imposed racial limits.

Brose and other opponents want the Supreme Court to stop the practice and rule that schools should not consider race when enrolling students.

They embrace an argument made a half century ago in the landmark case Brown vs. Board of Education, which outlawed separate school systems for whites and blacks

"Brown vs. Board of Education was about the right of individuals not to be discriminated against because of their skin color, and that is exactly what is at stake in this case," said Roger Clegg, president and general counsel at the Center for Equal Opportunity.

Civil rights groups resent opponents using the historic case to now challenge voluntary efforts to integrate schools. They say a ruling against the districts would undermine the promise of integration.

"They now claim they are the inheritors of Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream of a country in which little children wouldn't be judged by the color of their skin," said Ted Shaw, director-counsel and president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

"He would be appalled by how his words are being used," Shaw said.

These are the first major race cases for the court as led by Chief Justice John Roberts.

Today, demonstrators are expected to make their voices heard as the court weighs the arguments in these cases.