Over the past six months, school districts across the county have felt the squeeze from rising fuel costs, prompting them to consider – if not act upon – proposals to reduce transportation routes for schoolchildren.1 Given the strong link between residential segregation and neighborhood schools, access to free transportation has historically been a fundamental component of desegregation efforts. The first formal discussion of free transportation was written into the 1965 U.S. Department of Health Education and Welfare’s (HEW) desegregation guidelines outlining how districts should comply with the Civil Rights Act of 1964.2 School districts in the Southern and Border states were required, at a minimum, to offer all students the opportunity to change schools and to provide free transportation to make that option real. Even with those initial protections, the requirements were changed just one year later to ensure that school systems actually produced substantial increases in the utilization of choice options each year; if those increases were not evident, systems were ordered to adopt a mandatory transfer plan. More recently, the transfer provision in 2001’s No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) offers students the option of attending higher performing schools, which include guaranteed transportation to the new site. Research conducted by the Civil Rights Project indicates however, that NCLB’s transfer terms seldom gives students the opportunity to transfer to schools that are racially integrated and high performing. In this issue, we look at the role transportation plays in school desegregation and how rising fuel costs may impinge on school districts’ efforts to promote racial diversity and open school choice.

Brief history of the role of transportation in ensuring equal educational access

Free transportation helps guarantee access to schools outside of traditional zoning and neighborhood boundaries, giving families the option of sending their children beyond residential areas – and their attendant schools – which remain racially isolated. For nearly a decade after the 1954 Brown decision, school officials ignored the twin challenges of residential and school segregation as districts across the South mounted a formidable campaign against Brown’s “separate is not equal” mandate.3 This period of Massive Resistance was characterized by superficial efforts to comply with the Supreme Court’s ruling, largely in the form of “freedom of choice” plans that did little to combat existing patterns of segregation. Two court decisions, coupled with serious federal enforcement, helped change the landscape of desegregation in the South by not only providing explicit guidelines for desegegrating school districts, but also by granting school officials far-reaching tools to do so.4 The 1968 Green v. New Kent County ruling explicitly recognized transportation as one of six factors necessary to truly integrate schools. Three years later, Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg recognized the role of residential segregation in undermining efforts to promote real school integration. Swann represented the first judicial decision explicitly mandating the busing of students for the purpose of desegregation. Many student assignment plans after Swann fundamentally relied on busing to ensure the pursuit of racial integration.5

By the 1980’s, almost all desegregation plans relied heavily on student choice, usually in the form of magnet programs and voluntary transfers (with transfers, choice was protected with desegregation standards guiding the process of granting or denying requests). One of the ironies apparent from the beginning of moves against mandatory student reassignments is that school choice actually required much more transportation. Distances were often relatively short under mandatory assignments, making efficient transport – picking up all students from one area and dropping them at another destination -easily possible. By contrast, choice plans require that students be picked up from different areas and dropped off, often in small numbers and to many destinations. This is the least efficient kind of transportation. Thus, communities traded minimizing transportation and unpopular mandatory reassignments for maximizing choice.

The popular concept of “school choice” relies on equal access to free transportation. School choice was first implemented with civil rights considerations
under the magnet schools movement, and continues today – in many cases without those same civil rights controls – in the form of charters, alternative schools and NCLB transfers. Students and families are provided authentic choices (in terms of being able to realistically access all proffered options) when school districts make available both open and broad information circuits and free transportation. Without these important elements, “choice” becomes a privilege restricted to those with greater resources,6 while it is largely illusory for those families with economic or social constraints. Today, as increasing numbers of households contain two working parents juggling multiple responsibilities, getting children to and from schools located at a distance from the home becomes even more difficult.

Which districts are considering transportation cutbacks?

News reports from large school districts in states like Alabama, Florida, Connecticut, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Georgia, and Wisconsin indicate that school officials in these areas are at the very least considering reductions in current busing routes. In more extreme scenarios, districts are poised to eliminate transportation provisions altogether. For example, Mobile County, Alabama decided in July to cut transportation to magnet middle schools,7 programs which constitute one of the few remaining desegregation strategies in the district. Mobile parents are now required to drop off their students at their zoned schools, where they will then be bused to the magnet middle schools.8 The new magnet busing policies affects nearly 1,000 students attending three schools in the area (Mobile cut funding for transportation to magnet high schools last school year).9 Due to budget constraints, the state of Alabama also sought – and was granted – a federal waiver from the NCLB transfer provisions, eliminating a national mandate requiring districts to provide students with additional options if a neighborhood school is not performing well under No Child Left Behind.10 Dekalb County, Georgia, also concerned by rising fuel costs, is offering to individually compensate parents wanting to take advantage of the NCLB provision (as opposed to offering the free transportation).11 Far north of Georgia and Alabama, school board members in Milwaukee, Wisconsin have ended a longstanding policy of cross-district busing for high school students, reverting to a neighborhood school system in place prior to desegregation. In a district that is now 88% minority, some school officials argued that funding previously dedicated to busing for racial diversity could be put to better use.12 Milwaukee’s demographics underscore some of the challenges of integrating within school districts that are now predominately minority, rather than between districts, a policy that might present more opportunities for racial diversity in school settings.

In many of these affected school districts, community reaction has been swift and negative. School Board meetings, town halls, and, in the case of Mobile County, student marches have provided forums for the parents and activists to weigh in on transportation cuts.13 By and large, public sentiment runs against the proposed changes, many view them as limiting opportunities long guaranteed to students attending schools in these areas. It is possible that additional districts will begin considering cuts, given the rising cost of fuel and, more broadly, the forecasted recession. Still, it is vitally important for school officials to consider the harmful effects these cuts could have for racial diversity in our public schools.

Potential strategies to reduce transportation costs

Alternative solutions that skirt the elimination of transportation altogether should be carefully considered. A close examination of current busing routes, perhaps with the help of geocoding, may identify modifications yielding more efficient travel and fuel use. Another option involves consolidating bus stops on routes to magnet programs.14 Stops would be fewer and more centralized, requiring more effort on the part of the student and family, but still providing some degree of transportation. A Connecticut school district, along with others, also floated the idea of centralized pick up points (termed “drop off depots”), requiring that parents bring their children to lower feeder schools before being transported by bus to the magnet programs. This policy has been adopted in other localities facing the challenge of transporting students long distances each day. For example, students attending elementary magnet schools in Los Angeles report to a nearby or local school before being bused to their final destination. Finally, where there are viable public transportation routes, options like school payments for public buses or other mass transit options, or gas subsidies for car pools transporting a few students from one area to a particular school, can be considered.

Many of these options result in less comprehensive access for students, particularly unpalatable in an era of increasingly limited opportunities for systematically countering inequalities present in segregated and under-resourced schools. To date, much of the discussion around cutting transportation has been carried out as though transportation is somehow unrelated to educational outcomes. Yet, if students are transported to high quality school settings, research strongly suggests that better student outcomes will result. “The bottom line is that without transportation, choice is a mirage for many families otherwise confined to the most inadequate schools, in neighborhoods with the most serious segregation by race and income,” warns Gary Orfield, professor of education at UCLA with extensive involvement in desegregation cases around the country. “Our school districts are in danger of slipping back to plans that would have been rejected as hopelessly inadequate half a century ago, at the beginning of the movement to truly desegregation our nation’s schools.” Alternate transportation policies still offer more possibilities than what’s already taken place in some districts, that is, a complete end to existing transportation. Obviously, all potential alternatives to major transportation cuts should be carefully considered before any decisions are made.

Note to readers: Please write to TIR and keep us aware of local developments around these issues.

For next time…
The next issue of TIR will highlight major findings from a forthcoming Civil Rights Project report on magnet schools in today’s changing political and legal landscape.

Genevieve Siegel-Hawley
The Integration Report

1 Tomsho, Robert (9 Oct 2008). School Buses: Still Vehicles for Change. Wall Street Journal. Retrieved on October 23, 2008 from http://online.wsj.com/article/SB122350020932216619.html?mod=googlenews_wsj.
2 Orfield, Gary (1978). Must We Bus? Segregated Schools and National Policy. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution.
3 Patterson, James (2001). Brown v Board of Education: A Civil Rights Milestone and a Troubled Legacy. New York: Oxford University Press.
4 Green v. County School Board of New Kent County, 391 U.S. 430 (1968) and Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education, 402 U.S. 1 (1971).
5 Tomsho, Robert (9 Oct 2008). School Buses: Still Vehicles for Change. Wall Street Journal. Retrieved on October 23, 2008 from http://online.wsj.com/article/SB122350020932216619.html?mod=googlenews_wsj.
6 Fuller, Bruce, Richard Elmore and Gary Orfield (eds) (1996). Who Chooses, Who Loses?: Culture, Institutions, and the Unequal Effects of School Choice. New York: Teachers College Press.
7 Tomsho, Robert (9 Oct 2008). School Buses: Still Vehicles for Change. Wall Street Journal. Retrieved on October 23, 2008 from http://online.wsj.com/article/SB122350020932216619.html?mod=googlenews_wsj. Frankenberg, Erica (21 September 2008). Magnet schools teach more than rigorous academics. Alabama Press-Register. Retrieved on November 5, 2008 from http://www.al.com/opinion/press-register/insight.ssf?/base/opinion/122198857086810.com.
8 Havner, Rena (5 September 2008). Mobile reduces bus routes to magnet middle schools. Alabama Press-Register. Retrieved on November 6, 2008 from http://www.al.com/news/press-register/index.ssf?/base/news/122060613413230.xml&coll=3.
9 Ibid.
10 Ibid., No Child Left Behind.
11 Ibid.
12 Kane, Eugene (29 April 2008). Black kids on buses may slip into MPS lore. Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. Retrieved on November 5, 2008 from http://www.jsonline.com/news/milwaukee/29560054.html.
13 Ibid.
14 Ibid.


Click to navigate to desired section.

News Summary

Please send us your news
Please send reports, documents, court decisions, comments or suggestions for topics to: The Integration Report, Editor Genevieve Siegel-Hawley, at integrationrept@ucla.edu.

Colorado voters reject affirmative action ban
Colorado voters rejected a ban on affirmative action at public colleges and universities. The measure on Tuesday’s ballot would have barred state officials from considering race or gender in decisions on hiring, contracting and admissions (November 7, 2008).

Ban on preferences succeeds in Nebraska; Colorado measure remains undecided
Voters in Nebraska approved a measure that will ban affirmative-action programs based on race, gender, and national origin at public institutions, including colleges, while a similar vote in Colorado was too close to call, and Michigan residents relaxed that state’s restrictions on embryonic-stem-cell research (November 6, 2008).

Partial unitary status request expected
In the next few weeks, parties involved in Jackson-Madison County (Tennessee) Schools’ desegregation lawsuit are expected to draft an agreement to ask that a federal judge grant partial unitary status.NAACP attorney Richard Fields said the school system’s attorney, Dale Conder, is supposed to draft the agreement (October 9, 2008).

Ga. school desegregation case nearing end
A 45-year-old school desegregation case will draw to a close with Bibb County’s final filing to complete the historic case. In March, a federal judge lifted a 1970 desegregation order, ruling that the school system had met its obligation to integrate black and white students. The last requirement was for the school system to submit its final annual report on racial progress by Wednesday and do one last round of majority-to-minority transfers this school year (October 12, 2008). =

LCSD withdraws its petition for unitary status
Lowndes County School District’s (Pennsylvania) fairness hearing has been postponed indefinitely. The district’s hearing to determine whether or not they could be released from the confines of a 1970 desegregation order was set for Oct. 21. Attorneys for LCSD, plaintiffs suing the system for “discriminatory practices” and the U.S. Department of Justice will reconvene in three months. But for now, the county’s petition for unitary status — the term used for school districts released from their Civil Rights Era desegregation orders — is on hold (October 13, 2008).

Wake scraps multiyear school assignments
Wake County, NC school leaders are scrapping a plan to let parents know years ahead of time where their children will go to school. School administrators said Tuesday that the financial crunch will delay several construction projects. Because of this, they won’t be able to release next month a draft plan that would list school assignments for the next three years. Instead, schools will release a traditional plan that lists only the coming school year (October 13, 2008).

Dupree: School board gets ‘good feedback’ from Justice Department on plan to improve schools
Monroe City Schools (Louisiana) Superintendent James Dupree said all went well on his trip to Washington, D.C. to discuss the district’s consent decree with the U.S. Justice Department. The group presented the district’s plan to provide more honors and advanced placement classes at Wossman and Carroll high schools. Dupree said the Justice Department made no changes to the district’s proposal, which he called “comprehensive” (October 14, 2008).

St. John School Board districting plan fails desegregation review, under revision
St. John the Baptist Parish (Louisiana) school officials are trying to fix a redistricting plan approved by the School Board in April that fails to meet a requirement of a federal desegregation order.Damon Hewitt, an attorney for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, which filed the lawsuit that resulted in a Nov. 20, 1992, desegregation order, said recently that the plan increases the racial imbalance at some schools, including LaPlace Elementary School, which already has the highest percentage of white students of any non-magnet school (October 15, 2008).

Ruling sets up school trial
A federal court last week denied a motion filed by a local attorney seeking declaration against the Pitt County Board of Education. Charles “Sonny” McLawhorn, attorney for the Greenville Parents Association, asked the court Aug. 4 to declare that the Board of Education violated the rights of students with its 2006-07 school assignment plan, and to declare that federal orders issued in the 1970s to desegregate Pitt County’s schools require that race should not be used to classify students. A judgment in his favor would have brought an end to the suit, with a victory for the GPA (October 16, 2008).

Candidates give views on school dropouts, magnets
Contested races draw forum crowd

The four candidates for two contested seats on the Jefferson County Board of Education gathered for a public forum yesterday to discuss their views on issues such as reducing the dropout rate and the expansion of the magnet program at area high schools (October 17, 2008).

Lubbock school district’s desegregation case helped shaped solid foundation for students
It was a 21-year journey that proved to be as eventful as it was uneasy.In the nearly two decades since, the Lubbock Independent School District (Texas) has learned, grown and prospered as a result of a desegregation suit that began in the days of Richard Nixon’s administration and ended in the months before Bill Clinton took office (October 17, 2008).

Desegregation case sincerity is questioned
State officials have been negotiating with the three school districts in Pulaski County (Arkansas) a phase out of the nearly $ 70 million-a-year in desegregation payments that are shared among the districts and are required by a court-approved 1989 settlement between the districts and the state (October 21, 2008)

State rejects schools’ plans for desegregation funding
The Arkansas attorney general’s office on Tuesday rejected several proposals made by Pulaski County’s three school districts for phasing out about $ 70 million a year in state desegregation funding (October 22, 2008).

More minority students enrolled in Leon County schools than whites
The young faces that make up the Leon County (Tennessee) school district are changing. There are more faces belonging to black, Hispanic, Asian and multi-raced students, making white students the minority when compared to all other racial groups combined. School officials say they are not quitting on their commitment to diversity, despite budget limitations (October 19, 2008)

Schools expect more diversity
Schools in Greenville, SC use various methods to reach students of varying racial and ethnic backgrounds. Because of the continuing growth of the Hispanic population, the look of schools across the country is changing, according to a report released by the Southern Regional Education Board (October 21, 2008).

Downtown parents express opinions over school redistricting
The first two redistricting forums had taken place in a charged atmosphere, with standing-room only crowds fired up to defend neighborhood schools and New Hanover Schools’ (North Carolina) year-round program (October 21, 2008).

Education Officials Weigh Cuts In State Aid
Connecticut’s dire budget situation comes at a difficult time for the department, which is negotiating plans for fulfilling the Sheff v. O’Neill school desegregation lawsuit and attempting to revamp the state’s high schools and middle schools (October 22, 2008).

New plaintiff added to 50-year-old GISD lawsuit
A federal judge will allow a new plaintiff into a 50-year-old federal desegregation lawsuit against the Galveston public school district (Texas), postponing a federal judge’s order to declare the district desegregated for at least another month (October 24, 2008).

School diversity getting crowded out
A rise in wealthy parents sending their kids to public schools, plus overcrowding, has added up to less diversity in some New York City classrooms. Gentrification has squeezed out more racially mixed residents in many neighborhoods – and overcrowding has left schools that once promoted diversity by enrolling pupils from outside the neighborhood, unable to find room (October 26, 2008).

Pen pals bridge 5 miles, cultural divide
Minority students make up 38 percent of the classrooms in the Burnsville-Eagan-Savage School District (Minnesota), compared with 12 percent in Lakeville. That makes the Burnsville-Eagan-Savage district “racially isolated” under state law, which has required the two districts to come up with plans to better integrate their students (October 29, 2008).

Burlington schools hire director of diversity
The Burlington School District (Vermont) hired a new administrator help oversee district programs and policies that relate to race, religion, ethnicity and fairness (October 31, 2008).

Please send us your news
Please send reports, documents, court decisions, comments or suggestions for topics to: The Integration Report, Editor Genevieve Siegel-Hawley, at integrationrept@ucla.edu.

Return to top

Additional Resources for School Integration

**NEW** Research article examining the arc of desegregation in San Francisco Unified (written by the former court monitor, Stuart Biegel), with important implications for school districts around the country in the wake of the PICS decision. http://sjcrcl.stanford.edu/contents.html

Biegel, Stuart (October 2008). “Court Mandated Education Reform: The San Francisco Experience and the Shaping of Educational Policy after Seattle-Louisville and Ho v. SFUSD“. Volume 4, Stanford Journal of Civil Liberties & Civil Rights, Pages 159-215.

Cole Civil Rights Web Site: http://www.colecivilrights.com – The Web site completes Attorney Richard Cole’s transition to private sector civil rights work after 16 years of civil rights service in the Massachusetts Office of Attorney General.

Message from Richard Cole: I invite each of you to navigate the entire site to learn more about the unique and varied civil rights consulting and legal services I am offering. I also welcome your comments and advice. For your information and participation, the site will also update you on my upcoming statewide, regional, and national programs and workshops.

The consulting and legal services I am offering are based on my more than three decades of extensive civil rights experience as Assistant Attorney General and Civil Rights Division Chief in the Massachusetts Office of Attorney General, a private practice civil rights litigator, and a legal services litigator and manager.

Book: Everyday Antiracism: Getting Real About Race In School

The New Press announces the publication of Everyday Antiracism: Getting Real About Race In School, edited by Mica Pollock.
How should teachers and parents respond when children ask challenging questions about race? How should teachers handle the use of the “N-word” or discuss “achievement gaps” with colleagues? How can teachers avoid unwittingly making children of color speak on behalf of their entire group? While numerous books exist about race and race theory, Everyday Antiracism puts theory into practice by offering specific strategies for combating racism in the classroom. This book is available to order through Amazon.com or BarnesandNoble.com.

Sheff Web site
For more information regarding the Sheff desegregation case in Connecticut, please visit
http://www.sheffmovement.org/index.shtml. To view the results of a recent statewide poll revealing broad based support for interdistrict desegregation programs, please visit http://www.sheffmovement.org/pdf/PollPressRelease6-11-08.pdf.

BuildingChoice Web site
This Web site is designed to help implement and maintain public school choice programs. Included are promising practices from a range of programs, tools, and links to many additional resources to support your choice efforts.

The School Law Blog
Visit the School Law Blog for an important discussion of news and analysis of legal developments affecting schools, educators, and parents. Mark Walsh has been covering legal issues in education for more than 15 years for Education Week. He writes about school-related cases in the U.S. Supreme Court and in lower courts.

Still Looking to the Future: Voluntary K-12 School Integration; A Manual for Parents, Educators and Advocates. The NAACP Legal Defense Fund (LDF) and the Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles (CRP) are distributing the 2nd edition of their K-12 school integration manual which addresses the practical questions of what can be done to promote diversity and address the harms of racial isolation in schools.
To download the manual, visit www.civilrightsproject.ucla.edu or www.naacpldf.org.
To request hard copies or CDs of the manual and supplemental materials, please send an e-mail with your contact information and the number of copies requested to manual@naacpldf.org.

Preserving Integration Options for Latino Students. The Mexican American Legal Defense Fund (MALDEF) and the Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles (CRP/PDC) are currently disseminating their collaboratively-written guide for parents, advocates and educators interested in promoting diversity and addressing the harms of Latino racial isolation in their schools.
To download the manual or for additional information, please visit CRP/PDF’s Web site at www.civilrightsproject.ucla.edu.

Return to top

The Integration Report – Staff Members

Editor: Genevieve Siegel-Hawley
Editorial Assistant: Jared Sanchez
Legal Research: Hadley Van Vector
Editorial Committee: Erica Frankenberg, Gary Orfield, Laurie Russman
Webmaster: John Khuu

Return to top

Key Terms

Civil rights considerations – school or district policies that help combat the potentially stratifying effects of school choice. Examples include free transportation, special outreach to families of all background, widely disseminated information regarding educational choices, and non-competitive admissions processes.

Geocoding – computer programming that helps project the most efficient transportation routes.

Magnet school – developed as a desegregation tool during the 1970s, magnet schools attempt to attract students from all racial and socioeconomic backgrounds, usually through the implementation specialized or themed educational programs.

Return to context

Return to top

The Integration Report is produced by the Initiative on School Integration at The Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles, and is supported by a grant from the Open Society Institute.

Logo for The CRP/PDC