Are Schools Back to 'Separate But Unequal'?

ByABC News
April 19, 2002, 9:48 AM

April 23 -- Jessie Gooding, a 50-plus-year resident of Dayton, Ohio, remembers the hostile early days of court-ordered school desegregation in his hometown.

Back in 1975, tempers flared violently and an Ohio State University professor tapped to draw up Dayton's desegregation plan was shot and killed at his desk. Busing began the next year, anyway, and the long march to eliminate a dual school system unfair to blacks began.

An era came to an end last week when the NAACP agreed to a settlement, paving the way for the Dayton school district to be declared "unitary," releasing it from desegregation orders.

"We have to give the [school] board a chance," Gooding, president of the Dayton NAACP, said.

The NAACP the civil-rights group that aggressively pursued school desegregation in the 1960s and '70s doesn't have much of a choice anymore.

Since the early 1990s, courts began making it easier for school districts to comply with desegregation orders. Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court showed it would not reverse that trend when it decided not to hear a historic case from Charlotte-Mecklenberg, N.C. officially ending the nation's oldest court-ordered busing program.

Indeed, more than four decades after the high court ruled in the landmark case Brown vs. The Board of Education of Topeka, Kan. that racially separate schools are inherently unequal, courts are now the leading force in dismantling desegregation programs.

Last week, a federal court in Seattle went one step further, banning a voluntary desegregation program that involved using race as a tie-breaker to decide which students got admitted to popular high schools.

Is racial integration in the schools a relic from a bygone era?

Returning to 'Separate But Unequal'?

Even with the massive desegregation effort during the last few decades, U.S. schools are still very much divided by race.

More than 70 percent of the nation's black students attend predominantly minority schools, according to an analysis of 1998-99 school data by the Harvard University Civil Rights Project. More than one-third of Latino students attend intensely segregated schools. White students attended schools where less than 20 percent of the other students are from all other racial and ethnic groups combined.