The Impact of Supreme Court Ruling on Local Schools

By: Gordon Boyd
By: Gordon Boyd

Knoxville (WVLT) - Thursday, the US Supreme Court handed down a major ruling surrounding race and schools.

Parents from Louisville, Kentucky and Seattle, Washington challenged plans to assign students to schools based on race to maintain diversity.

The High Court Justices sided with the parents, rejecting Affirmative Action plans in the two states that make race a factor in assigning students to public schools.

This is the largest school de-segregation case in more than a decade.

Could this ruling affect which school your child attends?

Volunteer TV’s Gordon Boyd has been looking for answers here in Knox County.

The answer, for any school district, is somewhere in the ruling's 185 pages

Certainly, Knox County's desegregation plan is far different from Louisville’s or Seattle’s.

Which is why the Law Department, like the Supreme Court, is trying to look beyond the black and white.

“We had separate but equal. But the schools weren't equal.” Even as Knoxville's first African-American school board member, Miss Sarah Moore Greene has never believed that racially balanced automatically equals schools of equal quality. “We need to see that every child is educated, and forget the race creed or color, and I don't think that's happening.”

Nor does the Supreme Court, saying Seattle and Louisville-Jefferson County Schools student placement plans employ only limited notions of diversity by focusing exclusively on race, working backwards to achieve balance.

But should Knox County worry?

“They didn't have school zones, we have school zones. You go to school in the zone that you live in. Then the racial makeup is irrelevant,” says Knox County School Board Member Sam Anderson.

The federal Office of Civil Rights actually approved Knox County's school zone plans 15 years ago, after the city and county schools merged 20 years ago.

But what might not pass this latest court muster, “We have a transfer policy that basically says they'll be no negative racial impact on our system,” says Knox County Law Director John Owings.

In other words, students can transfer into a school offering courses not available in their zoned school, provided it's not “racially identifiable,” more than 22 percent black.

Bottom Line: whites can't transfer out of, and blacks can't transfer into, 16 elementary schools, 4 middle schools, and 3 Knox County high schools.

“We can operate free and clear, but it would be in our best interest that if we have a concern, or if our policy is in conflict, the Office of Civil Rights have a look at it,” says Anderson.

Miss Sarah Moore Greene defines equal education more intimately, “God has given children an instinct. I found that out when I had my kindergarten. And they know who likes them and who don't.”

The Federal Office of Civil Rights quit looking over Knox County's shoulder eight years ago, but a fresh lawsuit could change all that.

That's why the Law Department wants to go over this carefully, to advise board members and administrators whether the transfer policy needs changing.


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