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ROBERT AND ALEXIS RANKIN v. SCHOOL DISTRICT PITTSBURGH ET AL. SCHOOL DISTRICT PITTSBURGH (12/19/77)

decided: December 19, 1977.

ROBERT AND ALEXIS RANKIN, MINORS, BY AMANDA RANKIN, THEIR MOTHER ET AL.
v.
THE SCHOOL DISTRICT OF PITTSBURGH ET AL. THE SCHOOL DISTRICT OF PITTSBURGH, PA., THE BOARD OF PUBLIC EDUCATION OF THE SCHOOL DISTRICT OF PITTSBURGH, AND JERRY C. OLSON, SUPERINTENDENT OF THE SAID SCHOOL DISTRICT OF PITTSBURGH, APPELLANTS



Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County in case of Robert and Alexis Rankin, minors, by Amanda Rankin, their mother; Keith, Kris and Kelly Evins, minors, by Mildred Evins, their mother; Lamont and Brandon Thomas, minors, by Ethel Thomas, their mother; John Lavender, a minor, by John Lavender and Irene Lavender, his parents; William and Anthony Greenlee, minors, by Joan Greenlee, their mother; on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated v. The School District of Pittsburgh, Pa., The Board of Public Education of the School District of Pittsburgh, and Jerry C. Olson, Superintendent of the said School District of Pittsburgh, No. GD 75-19178.

COUNSEL

Persifor S. Oliver, Jr., Assistant Solicitor, with him Justin M. Johnson, Solicitor, and Robert J. Stefanko, First Assistant Solicitor, for appellants.

Conrad A. Johnson, with him James E. Mahood, Mark Senick, and Thomas C. Reed, for appellees.

President Judge Bowman and Judges Crumlish, Jr., Wilkinson, Jr., Rogers and Blatt. Opinion by Judge Wilkinson, Jr.

Author: Wilkinson

[ 33 Pa. Commw. Page 131]

In Hayes v. School District of Pittsburgh, 33 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 71, 381 A.2d 193 (1977), we considered a petition to intervene by parents of public school children in a class action brought by other school children against the appellants. We are now asked to deal with the merits of the principal suit and the propriety of the issuance of an injunction in that case.

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Homewood-Brushton is a section of the city of Pittsburgh located in the northeast portion of the city, the residents of which are almost entirely black. The School District of Pittsburgh (District), whose boundaries are coterminous with the boundaries of the city, has an established policy of assigning students to neighborhood schools despite an order of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (Commission) issued in 1972, affirmed by this Court and the Supreme

[ 33 Pa. Commw. Page 132]

Court of Pennsylvania, ordering the District to eliminate racial imbalance in its schools by the reassignment of students.*fn1 Prior to the 1975-76 school year, children who lived in Homewood-Brushton and attended Pittsburgh public schools were assigned to six neighborhood elementary schools, each with an enrollment of more than 99% black. One of these schools, formerly Baxter Elementary School (Baxter), is the focus of the present dispute. Upon reaching the eighth grade these elementary students were assigned, prior to the fall of 1975, to Westinghouse High School, also located in Homewood-Brushton, also with an enrollment of over 99% black. In the spring of 1975 the District, in an attempt to resolve discipline problems at Westinghouse High School recommended to the Board of Public Education of the School District (Board) that Baxter be converted into a middle grade center at an estimated cost of $800,000 to $900,000. Thereafter the Board established an ad hoc committee to review discipline problems in the District as a whole, which recommended to the Board on June 24, 1975 that Baxter be converted to a middle grade center to house eighth grade students previously assigned to Westinghouse High School and seventh grade students who would have attended the six elementary schools in Homewood-Brushton. Elementary students previously assigned to Baxter were to be reassigned to the other elementary schools in Homewood-Brushton. This recommendation was approved on the same date and the Board subsequently awarded contracts in the amount of $61,265.00 for general construction to upgrade the elementary school into a middle grade center. At the

[ 33 Pa. Commw. Page 133]

    same time the Board was planning to convert Baxter into a middle grade center for the fall of 1975, the Board was also planning to open the Florence Reizenstein Middle School (Reizenstein), a newly-constructed facility on the boundary of Homewood-Brushton and the Point Breeze-Squirrel Hill area (both predominantly white). Reizenstein, unlike Baxter, was opened on an open enrollment or voluntary basis. However, the Board set racial quotas in accepting students for Reizenstein to achieve a student ratio of 58% white and 42% black, in accordance with the Commission's requirement that the composition of the student body conform to the racial composition of the District as a whole. Because of this racial quota only half of the black students who applied were accepted at Reizenstein. Those who were not accepted were assigned to Baxter or one of the Homewood-Brushton elementary schools.*fn2

In August of 1975 several students who lived in Homewood-Brushton and expected to be assigned to Baxter filed a class action against the District and its superintendent seeking to enjoin the opening of Baxter as a middle grade center. After a preliminary hearing, the parties agreed to court-supervised negotiations in an attempt to resolve their differences. These negotiations continued throughout most of the school year. When it appeared the parties were unable to reach a settlement the Court below filed an adjudication and decree on March 1, 1976 which ordered Baxter closed as a middle grade center, the reassignment of its ...


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