Priority Shift: The Fate of Mandatory Busing for School Desegregation in Seattle and the Nation

March 1996

This paper examines the trend in school districts, across the country and in Seattle, of substantially withdrawing from mandatory integration policies.

In 1954, the U.S. Supreme court declared in Brown vs. Board of Education that "separate educational facilities are inherently unequal." From the moment the Brown decision was handed down, communities have grappled with the scope of the constitutional requirement for desegregated public schools. Even today, although there is overwhelming agreement that desegregation precludes compelling students of different races to attend separate schools, there is no consensus about whether school districts have a further obligation to integrate students of different races and ethnicities in schools and classrooms. In communities with racially segregated housing patterns (and there are many such communities in America), if students were assigned to the school closest to home, schools would tend to have racially homogenous student populations.

School integration in these communities necessarily requires that some students ride buses to schools outside their neighborhood. Given this circumstance, controversy surrounds the question of the extent of the public obligation to create integrated classrooms: at what cost must we integrate?

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