Crawford v. Board of Education

Decision Date28 June 1976
CourtCalifornia Supreme Court
Parties, 551 P.2d 28 Mary Ellen CRAWFORD, a minor, etc., et al., Plaintiff and Respondents, v. BOARD OF EDUCATION OF the CITY OF LOS ANGELES, Defendant and Appellant. L.A. 30485.

John H. Larson and John D. Maharg, County Counsel, Alfred Charles De Flon, Deputy County Counsel, and Jerry F. Halverson, Los Angeles, for defendant and appellant.

Ralph D. Stern, Donald R. Lincoln, Paul D. Engstrand and Jennings, Engstrand & Henrikson, San Diego, as amici curiae on behalf of defendant and appellant.

Bayard F. Berman, William T. Rintala, Peter C. Smoot, Michael Bergman, Beverly Hills, Sheldon J. Weisel and Fred Okrand, Los Angeles, for plaintiffs and respondents.

Daniel M. Luevano, Rosalyn M. Chapman, Philip L. Goar, John E. McDermott, Mary S. Burdick, Howard S. Smith, Howard I. Friedman, Sidney J. Machtinger, Herbert A. Bernhard, Maxwell E. Greenberg, Harold Horowitz, Los Angeles, Laurence R. Sperber, Stanley W. Levy, Bertram K. Massing, Beverly Hills, Walter S. Hilborn, David Ziskind, Robert Weil, Jack Levine, Allan J. Greenberg, Los Angeles, William G. Israel, Beverly Hills, Nathan L. Schoichet, Los Angeles, Charles B. Johnson, Pasadena, and Joan L. Freeman, Los Angeles, as amici curiae on behalf of plaintiff and respondents.

TOBRINER, Justice.

Thirteen years ago, in Jackson v. Pasadena City School Dist. (1963) 59 Cal.2d 876, 31 Cal.Rptr. 606, 382 P.2d 878, (hereinafter Jackson) this court, in a unanimous decision authored by then Chief Justice Gibson, explicitly declared that '(t)he segregation of school children into separate schools because of their race, even though the physical facilities and the methods and quality of instruction in the several schools may be equal, deprives the children of the minority group of equal opportunities for education and denies them equal protection and due process of the law.' (Id. at p. 880, 31 Cal.Rptr. at p. 608, 382 P.2d at p. 880.) We held that as a consequence school boards in this state bear a constitutional obligation to undertake reasonably feasible steps to alleviate such racial segregation in the public schools, Regardless of the cause of such segregation. (Id. at p. 881, 32 Cal.Rptr. 606, 382 P.2d 878.)

In the instant case, the trial court found that although the schools of the Los Angeles Unified School District were severely segregated and were becoming increasingly segregated, the defendant school board had failed to take any steps to attempt to alleviate the segregated condition, and indeed, had taken affirmative acts which contributed to and perpetuated the racial and ethnic segregation in its school system. On the basis of these findings, the court ordered the defendant school board to prepare and implement a reasonably feasible plan for the desegregation of its schools.

The defendant school board appeals from the trial court judgment, contending primarily that the segregated condition of its district's schools should properly be characterized as 'de facto' rather than 'de jure' and that it owes no constitutional duty to alleviate such de facto school segregation. The findings in this case adequately support the trial court's conclusion that the segregation in the defendant school district is de jure in nature. We shall explain, however, that we do not rest our decision on this characterization because we continue to adhere to our conclusion in Jackson that school boards in California bear a constitutional obligation to take reasonably feasible steps to alleviate school segregation 'regardless of its cause.' (59 Cal.2d at p. 881, 31 Cal.Rptr. 606, 382 P.2d 878.) Consequently, the trial court's finding that the schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District are segregated, together with its conclusion that the defendant school board has failed to undertake reasonably feasible steps to desegregate its schools, are sufficient to sustain the trial court's order compelling the school board to prepare and implement a plan which attempts to alleviate the segregation and the traditional harmful effects of segregation in its district's schools.

While we affirm the trial court's order requiring the defendant board to prepare and implement a reasonably feasible desegregation plan, we shall point out that one portion of the judgment, defining 'segregated' schools in terms of specific racial and ethnic percentages, is in error and must be modified on remand. Moreover, although no specific desegregation plan is presently before this court, we have concluded that in light of the crucial importance of the remedial aspects of the school desegregation problem and the considerable confusion that prevails as to the nature of a school district's constitutional obligations, we should attempt to clarify the scope of the school board's constitutional duty in this area. As we explain, the Constitution does not require a school board to achieve a particular or identical 'racial mix' or 'racial balance' in each school; rather, the constitutional evil inheres in the existence of Segregated schools. It is the elimination of such segregation and the harms inflicted by such segregation that is the ultimate constitutional objective.

Furthermore, as our decision in Jackson indicated, a school board fulfills its constitutional obligation in this area so long as it undertakes reasonably feasible steps to alleviate segregation and its accompanying harm. The past decade has produced literally scores of alternative administrative techniques which may be utilized to facilitate school desegregation, but the success of alternative programs has varied markedly in practice, in terms of both the actual number of students who ultimately attend desegregated schools and the quality of the integrated educational programs that the affected school children receive. Experience has taught that the task of integration is an extremely complex one which entails much more than the assignment of specified percentages of pupils of different races or ethnic groups to the same school.

In light of the realities of the remedial problem, we believe that once a court finds that a school board has implemented a program which promises to achieve meaningful progress toward eliminating the segregation in the district, the court should defer to the school board's program and should decline to intervene in the school desegregation process so long as such meaningful progress does in fact follow. A court should thus stay its hand even if it believes that alternative techniques might lead to more rapid desegregation of the schools. We have learned that the fastest path to desegregation does not always achieve the consummation of the constitutional objective; it may instead result in resegregation. In the absence of an easy, uniform solution to the desegregation problem, plans developed and implemented by local school boards, working with community leaders and affected citizens, hold the most promising hope for the attainment of integrated public schools in our state.

In those instances, however, in which a court finds that a local school board has not embarked upon a course of action designed to eliminate segregation in its schools or, having done so, has not implemented a plan that provides meaningful progress toward that goal, a court has no alternative but to intervene and to order the school board to undertake immediately a reasonably feasible desegregation program. Under such circumstances, a trial court retains broad equitable power to order implementation of a realistic program which it believes will ensure meaningful progress to alleviate school segregation in the district.

1. The facts of the instant case.

Plaintiffs, minority children attending school in the Los Angeles Unified School District, filed this class action on August 1, 1963, just a few months after this court's decision in Jackson v. Pasadena City School Dist., supra. For several years thereafter the case remained relatively dormant, as plaintiffs sought to convince the school board to begin voluntarily the process of preparing and implementing a master plan for the eventual desegregation of the Los Angeles school district. When these efforts proved futile, the trial began in October 1968 and continued intermittently for 65 court days, finally concluding in May 1969. A tremendous quantity of evidentiary material was introduced in the course of the lengthy trial; the reporter's transcript on appeal runs to 62 volumes. After reviewing this weighty evidence, the trial court in May 1970 issued its lengthy findings of fact, conclusions of law, judgment and peremptory writ of mandate, essentially granting plaintiffs the relief they had sought.

The trial court initially found that the public schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District were, in fact, substantially segregated and, over the 1966 to 1968 period for which statistics were available, had become increasingly segregated. Although the precise extent of the segregation in the Los Angeles school district varies, depending upon how one defines 'segregated school,' 1 the statistical evidence before the trial court reveals that in 1968 a substantial proportion of the district's schools had student populations of either 90 percent or more minority students or 90 percent or more white students. 2 In light of the fact that the composition of the student population attending the district's schools in 1968 was approximately 50 percent minority and 50 percent white, 3 there is little question on the present record that the defendant school district was at that time substantially segregated. (Cf. Keyes, supra, 413 U.S. 189, 206, 93 S.Ct. 2686, 37 L.Ed.2d 548.) Indeed, the school board does not challenge the trial court's finding of substantial segregation in the district's schools.

The trial court also found that throughout the relevant time period--which ran through the conclusion of the trial...

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