Bowman v. County School Board of Charles City County, Va.

Decision Date12 June 1967
Docket NumberNo. 10793.,10793.
PartiesShirlette L. BOWMAN, Rhoda M. Bowman, Mildred A. Bowman, Richard M. Bowman and Sandra L. Bowman, infants, by Richard M. Bowman, their father and next friend, and all others of the plaintiffs, Appellants, v. COUNTY SCHOOL BOARD OF CHARLES CITY COUNTY, VIRGINIA et al., Appellees.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Fourth Circuit

S. W. Tucker, Richmond, Va. (Henry L. Marsh, III, Willard H. Douglas, Jr., Richmond, Va., Jack Greenberg and James M. Nabrit, III, New York City, on brief) for appellants.

Frederick T. Gray, Richmond, Va. (Williams, Mullen & Christian, Richmond, Va., on brief) for appellees.

Before HAYNSWORTH, Chief Judge, and SOBELOFF, BOREMAN, BRYAN, J. SPENCER BELL,* WINTER and CRAVEN, Circuit Judges, sitting en banc.

HAYNSWORTH, Chief Judge:

In this school case, the Negro plaintiffs attack, as a deprivation of their constitutional rights, a "freedom of choice" plan, under which each Negro pupil has an acknowledged, "unrestricted right" to attend any school in the system he wishes. They contend that compulsive assignments to achieve a greater intermixture of the races, notwithstanding their individual choices, is their due. We cannot accept that contention, though a related point affecting the assignment of teachers is not without merit.


"Freedom of choice" is a phrase of many connotations.

Employed as descriptive of a system of permissive transfers out of segregated schools in which the initial assignments are both involuntary and dictated by racial criteria, it is an illusion and an oppression which is constitutionally impermissible. Long since, this court has condemned it.1 The burden of extracting individual pupils from discriminatory, racial assignments may not be cast upon the pupils or their parents. It is the duty of the school boards to eliminate the discrimination which inheres in such a system.

Employed as descriptive of a system in which each pupil, or his parents, must annually exercise an uninhibited choice, and the choices govern the assignments, it is a very different thing. If each pupil, each year, attends the school of his choice, the Constitution does not require that he be deprived of his choice unless its exercise is not free. This we have held,2 and we adhere to our holdings.

Whether or not the choice is free may depend upon circumstances extraneous to the formal plan of the school board. If there is a contention that economic or other pressures in the community inhibit the free exercise of the choice, there must be a judicial appraisal of it, for "freedom of choice" is acceptable only if the choice is free in the practical context of its exercise. If there are extraneous pressures which deprive the choice of its freedom, the school board may be required to adopt affirmative measures to counter them.

A panel of the Fifth Circuit3 recently had occasion to concentrate its guns upon the sort of "freedom of choice" plan we have not tolerated, but, significantly, the decree it prescribed for its district courts requires the kind of "freedom of choice" plan we have held requisite and embodies standards no more exacting than those we have imposed and sanctioned.

The fact that the Department of Health, Education and Welfare has approved the School Board's plan is not determinative. The actions of that department, as its guidelines, are entitled to respectful consideration, for, in large measure or entirely, they are a reflection of earlier judicial opinions. We reach our conclusion independently, for, while administrative interpretation may lend a persuasive gloss to a statute, the definition of constitutional standards controlling the actions of states and their subdivisions is peculiarly a judicial function.

Since the plaintiffs here concede that their annual choice is unrestricted and unencumbered, we find in its existence no denial of any constitutional right not to be subjected to racial discrimination.


Appropriately, the School Board's plan included provisions for desegregation of the faculties. Supplemented at the direction of the District Court, those provisions are set forth in the margin.4

These the District Court found acceptable under our decision in Wheeler v. Durham City Board of Education, 4 Cir., 363 F.2d 738, but retained jurisdiction to entertain applications for further relief. It acted upon a record which showed that white teachers had been assigned to the "Indian school" and one Negro teacher had been assigned to a formerly all white school.

The appellants' complaint is that the plan is insufficiently specific in the absence of an immediate requirement of substantial interracial assignment of all teachers.

On this record, we are unable to say what impact such an order might have upon the school system or what administrative difficulties might be encountered in complying with it. Elimination of discrimination in the employment and assignment of teachers and administrative employees can be no longer deferred,5 but involuntary reassignment of teachers to achieve racial blending of faculties in each school is not a present requirement on the kind of record before us. Clearly, the District Court's retention of jurisdiction was for the purpose of swift judicial appraisal of the practical consequences of the School Board's plan and of the objective criteria by which its performance of its declared purposes could be measured.

An appeal having been taken, we lack the more current information which the District Court, upon application to it, could have commanded. Without such information, an order of remand, the inevitable result of this appeal, must be less explicit than the District Court's order, with the benefit of such information, might have been.

While the District Court's approval of the plan with its retention of jurisdiction may have been quite acceptable when entered, we think any subsequent order, in light of the appellants' complaints should incorporate some minimal, objective time table.

Quite recently, a panel of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals6 has required some progress in faculty integration for the school year 1967-68. By that decree, school boards are required to take affirmative steps to accomplish substantial desegregation of faculties in as many of the schools as possible for the 1967-68 school year and, wherever possible, to assign more than one member of the minority race to each desegregated faculty. As much should be required here. Indeed, since there was an earlier start in this case, the District Court, with the benefit of current information, should find it appropriate to fashion an order which is much more specific and more comprehensive. What is done on remand, however, must be done upon a supplemented record after an appraisal of the practical, administrative and other problems, if any, remaining to be solved and overcome.


SOBELOFF, Circuit Judge, with whom WINTERS, Circuit Judge, joins, concurring specially.

Willingly, I join in the remand of the cases* to the District Court, for I concur in what this court orders. I disagree, however, with the limited scope of the remand, for I think that the District Court should be directed not only to incorporate an objective timetable in the School Boards' plans for faculty desegregation, but also to set up procedures for periodically evaluating the effectiveness of the Boards' "freedom of choice" plans in the elimination of other features of a segregated school system.

With all respect, I think that the opinion of the court is regrettably deficient in failing to spell out specific directions for the guidance of the District Court. The danger from an unspecific remand is that it may result in another round of unsatisfactory plans that will require yet another appeal and involve further loss of time. The bland discussion in the majority opinion must necessarily be pitched differently if the facts are squarely faced. As it is, the opinion omits almost entirely a factual recital. For an understanding of the stark inadequacy of the plans promulgated by the school authorities, it is necessary to explore the facts of the two cases.

New Kent County. Approximately 1,290 children attend the public schools of New Kent County. The system operated by the School Board consists of only two schools — the New Kent School, attended by all of the county's white pupils, and the Watkins School, attended by all of the county's Negro pupils.

There is no residential segregation and both races are diffused generally throughout the county. Yet eleven buses traverse the entire county to pick up the Negro students and carry them to the Watkins School, located in the western half of the county, and ten other buses traverse the entire county to pick up the white students for the New Kent School, located in the eastern half of the county. One additional bus takes the county's 18 Indian children to the "Indian" school, located in an adjoining county. Each of the county's two schools has 26 teachers and they offer identical programs of instruction.

Repeated petitions from Negro parents, requesting the adoption of a plan to eliminate racial discrimination, were totally ignored. Not until some months after the present action had been instituted on March 15, 1965, did the School Board adopt its "freedom of choice" plan.1

The above data relate to the 1964-1965 school year.2 Since the Board's "freedom of choice" plan has now been in effect for two years as to grades 1, 2, 8, 9, 10, 11 and 12 and one year as to all other grades, clearly this court's remand should embrace an order requiring an evaluation of the success of the plan's operation over that time span, not only as to faculty but as to pupil integration as well. While the court does not order an inquiry in the District Court as to pupil integration, it of course does not forbid it. Since the District Judge retained the case on the docket, the matter will...

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