Keyes v. School District No Denver, Colorado 8212 507

Decision Date21 June 1973
Docket NumberNo. 71,71
Citation93 S.Ct. 2686,413 U.S. 189,37 L.Ed.2d 548
PartiesWilfred KEYES et al., Petitioners, v. SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. 1, DENVER, COLORADO, et al. —507
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

See 414 U.S. 883, 94 S.Ct. 27.


Petitioners sought desegregation of the Park Hill area schools in Denver and, upon securing an order of the District Court directing that relief, expanded their suit to secure desegregation of the remaining schools of the Denver School district, particularly those in the core city area. The District Court denied the further relief, holding that the deliberate racial segregation of the Park Hill schools did not prove a like segregation policy addressed specifically to the core city schools and requiring petitioners to prove de jure segregation for each area that they sought to have desegregated. That court nevertheless found that the segregated core city schools were educationally inferior to 'white' schools elsewhere in the district and, relying on Plessy v. Ferguson, 163 U.S. 537, 16 S.Ct. 1138, 41 L.Ed. 256, ordered the respondents to provide substantially equal facilities for those schools. This latter relief was reversed by the Court of Appeals, which affirmed the Park Hill ruling and agreed that Park Hill segregation, even though deliberate, proved nothing regarding an overall policy of segregation. Held:

1. The District Court, for purposes of defining a 'segregated' core city school, erred in not placing Negroes and Hispanos in the same category since both groups suffer the same educational inequities when compared with the treatment afforded Anglo students. Pp. 195—198.

2. The courts below did not apply the correct legal standard in dealing with petitioners' contention that respondent School Board had the policy of deliberately segregating the core city schools. Pp. 198—113.

(a) Proof that the school authorities have pursued an intentional segregative policy in a substantial portion of the school district will support a finding by the trial court of the existence of a dual system, absent a showing that the district is divided into clearly unrelated units. Pp. 201—203.

(b) On remand the District Court should decide initially whether respondent School Board's deliberately segregative policy respecting the Park Hills schools constitutes the whole Denver school district a dual school system. Pp. 204—205.

(c) Where, as in this case, a policy of intentional segregation has been proved with respect to a significant portion of the school system, the burden is on the school authorities (regardless of claims that their 'neighborhood school policy' was racially neutral) to prove that their actions as to other segregated schools in the system were not likewise motivated by a segregative intent. Pp. 207—213.

10 Cir., 445 F.2d 990, modified and remanded.

James M. Nabrit, III, New York City, and Gorden C. Greiner, Denver, Colo., for petitioners.

William K. Ris, Denver, Colo., for respondents.

Mr. Justice BRENNAN delivered the opinion of the Court.

This school desegregation case concerns the Denver, Colorado, school system. That system has never been operated under a constitutional or statutory provision that mandated or permitted racial segregation in public education. 1 Rather, the gravamen of this action, brought in June 1969 in the District Court for the District of Colorado by parents of Denver schoolchildren, is that respondent School Board alone, by use of various techniques such as the manipulation of student attendance zones, schoolsite selection and a neighborhood school policy, created or maintained racially or ethnically (or both racially and ethnically) segregated schools throughout the school district, entitling petitioners to a decree directing desegregation of the entire school district.

The boundaries of the school district are coterminous with the boundaries of the city and county of Denver. There were in 1969, 119 schools2 with 96,580 pupils in the school system. In early 1969, the respondent School Board adopted three resolutions, Resolutions 1520, 1524, and 1531, designed to desegregate the schools in the Park Hill area in the northeast portion of the city. Following an election which produced a Board majority opposed to the resolutions, the resolutions were rescinded and replaced with a voluntary student transfer program. Petitioners then filed this action, requesting an injunction against the rescission of the resolutions and an order directing that the respondent School Board desegregate and afford equal educational opportunity 'for the School District as a whole.' App. 32a. The District Court found that by the construction of a new, relatively small elementary school, Barrett, in the middle of the Negro community west of Park Hill, by the gerrymandering of student attendance zones, by the use of so-called 'optional zones,' and by the excessive use of mobile classroom units, among other things, the respondent School Board had engaged over almost a decade after 1960 in an unconstitutional policy of deliberate racial segregation with respect to the Park Hill schools.3 The court therefore ordered the Board to desegregate those schools through the implementation of the three rescinded resolutions. D.C., 303 F.Supp. 279 and 289 (1969).

Segregation in Denver schools is not limited, however, to the schools in the Park Hill area, and not satisfied with their success in obtaining relief for Park Hill, petitioners pressed their prayer that the District Court order desegregation of all segregated schools in the city of Denver, particularly the heavily segregated schools in the core city area.4 But that court concluded that its finding of a purposeful and systematic program of racial segregation affecting thousands of students in the Park Hill area did not, in itself, impose on the School Board an affirmative duty to eliminate segregation throughout the school district. Instead, the court fractionated the district and held that petitioners had to make a fresh showing of de jure segregation in each area of the city for which they sought relief. Moreover, the District Court held that its finding of intentional segregation in Park Hill was not in any sense material to the question of segregative intent in other areas of the city. Under this restrictive approach, the District Court concluded that petitioners' evidence of intentionally discriminatory School Board action in areas of the district other than Park Hill was insufficient to 'dictate the conclusion that this is de jure segregation which calls for an all-out effort to desegregate. It is more like de facto segregation, with respect to which the rule is that the court cannot order desegregation in order to provide a better balance.' D.C., 313 F.Supp. 61, 73 (1970).

Nevertheless, the District Court went on to hold that the proofs established that the segregated core city schools were educationally inferior to the predominantly 'white' or 'Anglo' schools in other parts of the district—that is, 'separate facilities . . . unequal in the quality of education provided.' Id., at 83. Thus, the court held that, under the doctrine of Plessy v. Ferguson, 163 U.S. 537, 16 S.Ct. 1138, 41 L.Ed. 256 (1896), respondent School Board constitutionally 'must at a minimum . . . offer an equal educational opportunity,' 313 F.Supp., at 83, and, therefore although all-out desegregation 'could not be decreed, . . . the only feasible and constitutionally acceptable program—the only program which furnishes anything approaching substantial equality is a system of desegregation and integration which provides compensatory education in an integrated environment.' 313 F.Supp. 90, 96 (1970). The District Court then formulated a varied remedial plan to that end which was incorporated in the Final Decree.5

Respondent School Board appealed, and petitioners cross-appealed, to the Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit. That court sustained the District Court's finding that the Board had engaged in an unconstitutional policy of deliberate racial segregation with respect to the Park Hill schools and affirmed the Final Decree in that respect. As to the core city schools, however, the Court of Appeals reversed the legal determination of the District Court that those schools were maintained in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment because of the unequal educational opportunity afforded, and therefore set aside so much of the Final Decree as required desegregation and educational improvement programs for those schools. 445 F.2d 990 (1971). In reachingt that result, the Court of Appeals also disregarded respondent School Board's deliberate racial segregation policy respecting the Park Hill schools and accepted the District Court's finding that petitioners had not proved that respondent had a like policy addressed specifically to the core city schools.

We granted petitioners' petition for certiorari to review the Court of Appeals' judgment insofar as it reversed that part of the District Court's Final Decree as pertained to the core city schools. 404 U.S. 1036, 92 S.Ct. 707, 30 L.Ed.2d 728 (1972). The judgment of the Court of Appeals in that respect is modified to vacate instead of reverse the Final Decree. The respondent School Board had cross-petitioned for certiorari to review the judgment of the Court of Appeals insofar as it affirmed that part of the District Court's Final Decree as pertained to the Park Hills schools. School District No. 1 v. Docket No. 71—572, Keyes. The cross-petition is denied.


Before turning to the primary question we decide today, a word must be said about the District Court's method of defining a 'segregated' school. Denver is a tri-ethnic, as distinguished from a bi-racial, community. The overall racial and ethnic composition of the Denver public schools is 66 Anglo, 14% Negro, and 20% Hispano.6 The District Court in assessing the question of de jure segregation in the core city schools,...

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