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decided: November 17, 1972.


Appeal from decree of Commonwealth Court, No. 937 C.D. 1971, affirming order of Court of Common Pleas, Civil Division, of Allegheny County, Jan. T., 1972, No. 433, in re Robert Zebra et al. v. School District of the City of Pittsburgh.


Justin M. Johnson, Solicitor, with him Thomas J. Cox, Jr., and Bernard Markovitz, Assistant Solicitors, for appellant.

Paul G. Kachulis, with him John V. Adams, Jr. and Kachulis, Copetas, Adams & Hillen, for appellees.

Jones, C. J., Eagen, O'Brien, Roberts, Pomeroy, Nix and Manderino, JJ. Opinion by Mr. Chief Justice Jones. Mr. Justice Eagen concurs in the result.

Author: Jones

[ 449 Pa. Page 434]

In June of 1971 the Board of Public Education of the School District of Pittsburgh adopted a school reorganization plan which altered the enrollment pattern of a number of city schools. The reorganization

[ 449 Pa. Page 435]

    was to take effect at the beginning of the 1971-72 school year. The instant controversy arose out of a provision of the plan which assigned all students who completed sixth grade at the Concord Elementary School to seventh grade at Knoxville Junior High. Prior to the reorganization, students who completed sixth grade at Concord were assigned to seventh grade at Overbrook Elementary School. As a result of the changes made by the plan, the racial balance was improved at Knoxville and Overbrook and overcrowding at both schools was reduced. After the reorganization, Knoxville was still a predominantly black school; thirty to thirty-five percent of the 835 students enrolled at Knoxville were white. Most if not all of the Concord area students who were assigned to Knoxville were white. In addition to improving the racial balance and reducing overcrowding, this transfer was part of an overall plan to establish a city-wide system of "middle schools" which would include grades six through eight.

Prior to the opening of school in September of 1971, several parent-teacher meetings were held, including an open house at Knoxville, to acquaint the parents with the school. On September 7th school opened as scheduled without incident. During the next two weeks, however, a series of unpleasant incidents occurred involving violence, threats, harassment and intimidation directed against some of the students from the Concord area. On September 23rd there was a power failure in the area of the City in which the school is located and there were rumors that there might be a riot after school. Although nothing else untoward happened on the 23rd, on the next day there was a false fire alarm at the school. On that day, a Friday, the Concord area parents withdrew their children from school en masse. The following Monday, September 27th, 1971, the parents gathered at the Overbrook Elementary School and demanded that their children be enrolled in the seventh

[ 449 Pa. Page 436]

    grade of that school. During the next two weeks there were several meetings between the Concord area parents and school officials, including the principal of Knoxville Junior High School, the Acting Superintendent of the school system, and members of the School Board. No solution was reached.

On October 8th, 1971, the school directors met and authorized the Acting Superintendent to take whatever steps were necessary to insure the safety and welfare of all the children attending Knoxville. On October 13th, 1971, the principal of Knoxville sent a letter to each of the families whose children had been withdrawn from school requesting their cooperation in returning their children to school. The letter advised the parents that steps were being taken to insure the safety and welfare of their children. On the same day the parents filed a complaint in equity in the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas seeking to enjoin the school district from compelling their children to attend the Knoxville School and to require the assignment of the children to the Overbrook School.

A hearing to determine whether a preliminary injunction should issue was held on the 19th and 20th of October and, on October 26th, 1971, the court filed a decree preliminarily enjoining the defendant school district from requiring the children of the forty-seven Concord area plaintiffs to attend Knoxville and requiring the defendant to provide other school facilities for their children. The school district appealed the preliminary decree of the lower court to the Commonwealth Court, which affirmed. Zebra v. School District of the City of ...

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