433 U.S. 406 (1977), 76-539, Dayton Board of Education v. Brinkman

Docket Nº:No. 76-539
Citation:433 U.S. 406, 97 S.Ct. 2766, 53 L.Ed.2d 851
Party Name:Dayton Board of Education v. Brinkman
Case Date:June 27, 1977
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 406

433 U.S. 406 (1977)

97 S.Ct. 2766, 53 L.Ed.2d 851

Dayton Board of Education



No. 76-539

United States Supreme Court

June 27, 1977

Argued April 26, 1977




In this school desegregation case, the District Court, after an evidentiary hearing, held that petitioner Dayton, Ohio, School Board had engaged in racial discrimination in the operation of the city's schools. On the basis of a "cumulative violation" of the Equal Protection Clause that the court found, which was composed of three elements, viz., (1) substantial racial imbalance in student enrollment patterns throughout the school system; (2) the use of optional attendance zones allowing some white students to avoid attending predominantly black schools; and (3) the School Board's rescission in 1972 of resolutions passed by the previous Board that had acknowledged responsibility in the creation of segregative racial patterns and had called for various types of remedial measures, the District Court, following reversals by the Court of Appeals of more limited remedies, ultimately formulated and the Court of Appeals approved, a systemwide remedy. The plan required, beginning with the 1976-1977 school year, that the racial composition of each school in the district be brought within 15% of Dayton's 48%-52% black-white population ratio, to be accomplished by a variety of desegregation techniques, including the "pairing" of schools, the redefinition of attendance zones, and a variety of centralized special programs and "magnet schools."


1. Judged most favorably to respondent parents of black children, the District Court's findings of constitutional violations did not suffice to justify the systemwide remedy. The finding that pupil population in the various Dayton schools is not homogeneous, standing by itself, is not a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment absent a showing that this condition resulted from intentionally segregative actions on the part of the Board. Washington v. Davis, 426 U.S. 229, 239. The court's finding as to the optional attendance zones applied to three high schools, and, assuming that, under Washington standards, a violation was involved, only high school districting was implicated. And the conclusion that the Board's rescission action constituted a constitutional violation is of dubious soundness. It was thus not demonstrated that the systemwide

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remedy, in effect imposed by the Court of Appeals, was necessary to "eliminate all vestiges of the state-imposed school segregation." Pp. 413-418.

2. In view of the confusion at various stages in this case as to the applicable principles and appropriate relief, the case must be remanded to the District Court. The ambiguous phrase "cumulative violation," used by both courts below, does not overcome the disparity between the evidence of constitutional violations and the sweeping remedy finally decreed. More specific findings [97 S.Ct. 2769] must be made, and, if necessary, the record must be supplemented. Conclusions as to violations must be made in light of this Court's opinions here and in Washington v. Davis, supra, and Arlington Heights v. Metropolitan Housing Dev. Corp., 429 U.S. 252, and a remedy must be fashioned in light of the rule laid down in Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education, 402 U.S. 1, and elaborated on in Hills v. Gautreaux, 425 U.S. 284. In a case like this, where mandatory racial segregation has long since ceased, it must first be determined if the school board intended to, and did in fact, discriminate, and all appropriate additional evidence should be adduced; and only if systemwide discrimination is shown may there be a systemwide remedy. Meanwhile, the present plan should remain in effect for the coming school year, subject to further District Court orders as additional evidence might warrant. Pp. 418-421.

539 F.2d 1084, vacated and remanded.

REHNQUIST, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and STEWART, WHITE, BLACKMUN, POWELL, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. STEVENS, J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 421. BRENNAN, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, post, p. 421. MARSHALL, J., took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.

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REHNQUIST, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE REHNQUIST delivered the opinion of the Court.

This school desegregation action comes to us after five years and two round trips through the lower federal courts.1 Those protracted proceedings have been devoted to the formulation of a remedy for actions of the Dayton Board of Education found to be in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. In the decision now under review, the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit finally approved a plan involving district-wide racial distribution requirements, after rejecting two previous, less sweeping orders by the District Court. The plan required, beginning with the 1976-1977 school year, that the racial distribution of each school

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in the district be brought within 15% of the 48%-52% black-white population ratio of Dayton.2 As finally formulated, the plan employed a variety of desegregation techniques, including the "pairing"3 of schools, the redefinition of attendance zones, and [97 S.Ct. 2770] a variety of centralized special programs and "magnet schools." We granted certiorari, 429 U.S. 1060 (1977), to consider the propriety of this court-ordered remedy in light of the constitutional violations which were found by the courts below.

Whatever public notice this case has received as it wended its way from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio to this Court has been due to the fact that it represented an effort by minority plaintiffs to obtain relief from alleged unconstitutional segregation of the Dayton public schools said to have resulted from actions by the petitioner School Board. While we would by no means discount the importance of this aspect of the case, we think that the case is every bit as important for the issues it raises as to the proper allocation of functions between the district courts and the courts of appeals within the federal judicial system.

Indeed, the importance of the judicial administration aspects

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of the case are heightened by the presence of the substantive issues on which it turns. The proper observance of the division of functions between the federal trial courts and the federal appellate courts is important in every case. It is especially important in a case such as this, where the District Court for the Southern District of Ohio was not simply asked to render judgment in accordance with the law of Ohio in favor of one private party against another; it was asked by the plaintiffs, parents of students in the public school system of a large city, to restructure the administration of that system.

There is no doubt that federal courts have authority to grant appropriate relief of this sort when constitutional violations on the part of school officials are proved. Keyes v. School District No. 1, Denver, Colo., 413 U.S. 189 (1973); Wright v. Council of City of Emporia, 407 U.S. 451 (1972); Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education, 402 U.S. 1 (1971). But our cases have just as firmly recognized that local autonomy of school districts is a vital national tradition. Milliken v. Bradley, 418 U.S. 717, 741-742 (1974); San Antonio School District v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 1, 50 (1973); Wright v. Council of City of Emporia, supra at 469. It is for this reason that the case for displacement of the local authorities by a federal court in a school desegregation case must be satisfactorily established by factual proof and justified by a reasoned statement of legal principles. Cf. Pasadena City Board of Education v. Spangler, 427 U.S. 424 (1976).

The lawsuit was begun in April, 1972, and the District Court filed its original decision on February 7, 1973. The District Court first surveyed the past conduct of affairs by the Dayton School Board, and found

isolated but repeated instances of failure by the Dayton School Board to meet the standards of the Ohio law mandating an integrated school system.4


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cited instances of physical segregation in the schools during the early decades of this century,5 but concluded that

[b]oth by reason of the substantial time that [had] elapsed and because these practices have ceased, . . . the foregoing will not necessarily be deemed to be evidence of a continuing segregative policy.

The District Court also found that, as recently as the 1950's, faculty hiring had not been on a racially neutral basis, but that,

[b]y 1963, under a policy designated as one of "dynamic gradualism," at least one black teacher had been assigned to all eleven high schools and to 35 of the 66 schools in the entire system.

It further found that, by 1969, each school in the Dayton system had an integrated teaching staff consisting of at least one black faculty member. The court's conclusion with respect to faculty hiring was that, pursuant to a 1971 agreement with the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, "the teaching staff of the Dayton public schools became and still remains substantially integrated."6

The District Court noted that Dunbar High School had been established in 1933 as a black high school, taught by black teachers and attended by black pupils. At the time of its creation, there were no attendance zones in Dayton, and students were permitted liberal transfers, so that attendance at Dunbar was voluntary. The court found that Dunbar continued to exist as a citywide all-black high school until it closed in 1962.

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Turning to more recent operations of the Dayton public schools, the District Court found that the "great majority" of the 66 schools were imbalanced, and that,...

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