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Washington v. Seattle School District

A Thorny Problem

In the early 1970s school districts throughout the United States were faced with a dilemma: their school systems were racially segregated in a manner reminiscent of the "separate but equal" era in the South prior to the Court's ruling in Brown v. Board of Education (1954). This segregation was not the product of policy or public design, but had arisen through development patterns created by the actions of individuals acting independently. This type of segregation, labeled de facto, would prove difficult to correct.

The Seattle School District operated 112 schools serving more than 50,000 students in the early 1970s. Thirty-seven percent of the district's students at the time were of minority descent, and de facto housing patterns resulted in a heavily segregated school system. Beginning in 1963 the district took action to end racial segregation within its schools, when a program allowing students to transfer in order to integrate schools was implemented. However, the program did not materially alter the pattern of segregation within the district.

In 1977, the district announced its intention to address racial imbalance within its schools through a program involving "magnet" and "feeder" schools. These schools were expected to attract a racially diverse student body at critical levels within the district, which would then "feed into" less integrated schools and eventually desegregate the system as a whole. Despite the plan, after one year of this program, racial segregation within the district had actually increased.

Following the failure of its magnet and feeder programs, the district adopted the Seattle Plan for school desegregation. This plan called for the mandatory reassignment of students to integrate schools, using the busing of students to achieve this end where required. The plan was scheduled for implementation in the 1978-79 school year.

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1981 to 1988Washington v. Seattle School District - Significance, A Thorny Problem, Resistance To Change, Legal Remedies, The Power Of The State