Citizens for Better Educ. v. Goose Creek Consol. Independent School Dist.

Decision Date28 August 1986
Docket NumberNo. 01-85-0837-CV,01-85-0837-CV
Citation719 S.W.2d 350
Parties35 Ed. Law Rep. 1266 CITIZENS FOR BETTER EDUCATION, et al., Appellants, v. GOOSE CREEK CONSOLIDATED INDEPENDENT SCHOOL DISTRICT, et al., Appellees. (1st Dist.)
CourtTexas Court of Appeals

George M. Kirk, Jr., Houston, for appellants.

Richard A. Peebles, Reid, Strickland & Gillette, Baytown, for appellees.

Before SAM BASS, DUNN and COHEN, JJ.

OPINION

COHEN, Justice.

The appellants seek review of the trial court's denial of permanent injunctive relief in their suit to invalidate a rezoning plan adopted by the Board of Trustees of the Goose Creek Consolidated Independent School District ("the trustees"). The appellants are a group of parents who reside in the school district.

Goose Creek Consolidated Independent School District contains two high schools, Robert E. Lee and Ross S. Sterling, which in past years had been similar in size, socioeconomic makeup, test scores, and ethnic balance. The trial court found that in recent years, demographic patterns were changing the ethnic composition of the two high schools, and that the trustees studied possible alternatives for preventing ethnic and socioeconomic isolation between the schools. Two public hearings were held on the issue. The trustees eventually adopted a rezoning plan that changed the attendance zones for Lee and Sterling, shifting some boundaries to the north. The plan also moved the bilingual education program from Lee to Sterling. Other than bilingual students, only students entering high school after the 1984-85 school year are affected by the plan, which also includes a sibling exception. Consequently, no students presently attending either school are required to change schools.

The record reflects that Lee and Sterling High Schools are 3.6 miles apart, a distance that can be traveled by car in 10 minutes. It shows that while some students will have to be bussed to school solely due to boundary changes, most of those who will be bussed would have ridden a bus to school anyway.

The appellants charge that the rezoning plan was an illegal white/Anglo effort to change "a perceived ethnic imbalance" between the two high schools in the district. The parties agree that there is no issue of de jure segregation within the school district, but the appellees argue that it was concern over future de facto segregation that motivated the board's efforts to more evenly distribute the ethnic compositions of Lee and Sterling High Schools.

In eight points of error, the appellants claim that the lower court erred in refusing the requested injunction, because (1) the trustees had no power to voluntarily implement a student assignment plan based on race to remedy an imbalance caused by demographic changes in the district; (2) the trustees acted outside the scope of their discretionary powers in adopting the plan and acted with discriminatory purpose; (3) the rezoning plan is contrary to federal and state constitutional authority; and (4) sections 21.074 and 21.075 of the Texas Education Code require that the parents of affected students be given individual hearings to contest the "transfer" of their children to a new school.

The appellants point out that there was no legal obligation of the trustees to implement a desegregation plan, absent a finding of segregation. But the absence of a court order to desegregate does not mean that a school board cannot exceed minimum requirements in order to promote school integration. School authorities are traditionally given broad discretionary powers to formulate and implement educational policy and may properly decide to ensure to their students the value of an integrated school experience. Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education, 402 U.S. 1, 16, 91 S.Ct. 1267, 1276, 28 L.Ed.2d 554 (1971); North Carolina State Board of Education v. Swann, 402 U.S. 43, 45-46, 91 S.Ct. 1284, 1285-86, 28 L.Ed.2d 586 (1971).

School authorities ... might well conclude, for example, that in order to prepare students to live in a pluralistic society each school should have a prescribed ratio of Negro to white students reflecting the proportion for the district as a whole. To do this as an educational policy is within the broad discretionary powers of school authorities; absent a finding of a constitutional violation, however, that would not be within the authority of a federal court.

Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg, 402 U.S. at 16, 91 S.Ct. at 1276. Thus, the trustees had authority to do, as a matter of educational policy, what a court had no power to do in the absence of a finding of segregation.

The appellants assert that the plan violates their constitutional rights of equal protection and due process of law. Appellants attack a voluntary effort by school authorities to achieve ethnic balance. We are not concerned here with the constitutionality of distributing a limited number of privileges on the basis of race, as was the case in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, 438 U.S. 265, 98 S.Ct. 2733, 57 L.Ed.2d 750 (1978). The parties acknowledge that both schools provide a quality education; that no child has been excluded from school or assigned to an inferior school; and that there is no constitutional right to attend a particular school.

A primary purpose of the equal protection clause is to prevent government conduct that discriminates on the basis of race. See Washington v. Davis, 426 U.S. 229, 239, 96 S.Ct. 2040, 2047, 48 L.Ed.2d 597 (1976). Though race is generally considered a suspect classification, it was used in this case to promote integration, i.e., to extend benefits rather than to deny them, and should, therefore, only be subject to "rational basis" rather than "strict scrutiny" analysis. See San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 1, 93 S.Ct. 1278, 36 L.Ed.2d 16 (1973). Education is not explicitly guaranteed by the Constitution and is not considered to be a fundamental right. Id. at 35, 93 S.Ct. at 1297. If strict scrutiny were to apply, however, providing an integrated education has been described as perhaps the most important function of government and satisfies the requirement that the official action further a compelling state interest. Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483, 74 S.Ct. 686, 98 L.Ed. 873 (1954).

Courts have acknowledged that race may legitimately be considered in a school board's decision to further its policy that an ethnically balanced school setting is important to education. See Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg, 402 U.S. 1, 91 S.Ct. 1267, 28 L.Ed.2d 554; North Carolina State Board of Education v. Swann, 402 U.S. 43, 91 S.Ct. 1284, 28 L.Ed.2d 586; McDaniel v. Barresi, 402 U.S. 39, 91 S.Ct. 1287, 28 L.Ed.2d 582 (1971); Offermann v. Nitkowski, 378 F.2d 22, 24 (2d Cir.1967).

There has been no showing that the trustees' plan redrawing attendance zones had either a discriminatory motive or a discriminatory impact on minority students. The parties agree that both Lee and Sterling High Schools provide a good education. The plan adjusted geographic attendance zones within the school district to develop a more equal ethnic balance at the two schools, and it did not transfer only certain students according to ethnicity or race. Students are assigned to one of the high schools according to their residence in that school's attendance zone. As stated, there is no constitutional right to attend a particular school, and there has been no showing that any reclassified students are being deprived of equal educational opportunity.

Nor does the record support the appellants' contention that the plan has no rational basis. There was evidence that recent demographic changes had concentrated Hispanic residents and low-income families in the southern part of the district and that geographic limitations had otherwise caused a development shift to the north. There was evidence that these factors would affect the racial and...

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