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Briefing the Court on School Integration

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Amy Stuart Wells

Amy Stuart Wells

T he U.S. Supreme Court reviewed an amicus brief submitted by TC Professor Amy Stuart Wells in December as part of its consideration of challenges to school integration plans in Washington State and Kentucky.

Both plans, one in Seattle and the other in Jefferson County, assign children to schools in ways that--while allowing some measure of parental choice--seek to maintain a racial balance that reflects the area population. The court agreed to review challenges to those methods despite lower court rulings upholding their constitutionality. 

The amicus brief filed by Wells, one of the leading experts in the country on desegregation, argues in favor of the plans, focusing on the long-term social benefits of integration and reviewing social science research supporting it. Wells wrote that the Supreme Court's 1954 decision in Brown versus Board of Education, which struck down segregation in U.S. schools, gave rise to a "new hope: that exposure to integrated settings early in life would improve opportunities for all students, break the cycle of racial separation in the U.S. society as a whole and yield generations of young Americans more apt to construct an equal, open society." She argued that social science since Brown has overwhelmingly vindicated the rationale for the decision.

Wells' brief, filed through the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. and co- signed by TC's Jay Heubert and Michael Rebell, was the only one of 50 filed in the case to focus specifically on the long-term social benefits of integration. The Court will not issue its ruling until June, but early indications following oral arguments in December were that the Justices would not uphold the constitutionality of the two districts' policies. In a commentary piece Wells published in Education Week, she wrote: "Such a ruling would then fly in the face of powerful social science evidence that speaks the truth-'it would be a decision we'd all have to live with--on our separate and unequal terms--for many years to come."
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