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HOOTS v. PENNSYLVANIA

May 12, 1982

Dorothy HOOTS, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA et al., Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: WEBER

Presently before this court are several student assignment plans which represent another step in the ongoing process of desegregating the school system now known as Woodland Hills School District.

The history of this case is extensively outlined in the prior opinions of this court as well as those of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit; and need not be repeated here. See: Hoots v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, 334 F. Supp. 820 (W.D.Pa.1972) ("Hoots I"); Hoots v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, 359 F. Supp. 807 (W.D.Pa.1973) ("Hoots II"); Hoots v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, 495 F.2d 1095 (3d Cir.), cert. denied, 419 U.S. 884, 95 S. Ct. 150, 42 L. Ed. 2d 124 (1974) ("Hoots III"); Hoots v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, 587 F.2d 1340 (3d Cir. 1978) ("Hoots IV"); Hoots v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, 639 F.2d 972 (3d Cir. 1981) ("Hoots V"); Hoots v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, 510 F. Supp. 615 (W.D.Pa.1981) ("Hoots VI"); Hoots v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, (W.D.Pa. 71-538, April 16, 1981) ("Hoots VII"); Hoots v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, (W.D.Pa. 71-538, April 28, 1981) ("Hoots VIII"); Hoots v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, 672 F.2d 1107 (3d Cir. 1982) ("Hoots IX").

 The New School District, now known as Woodland Hills School District, was created by order of this court, dated April 28, 1981, which merged five formerly independent school districts into one. On July 23, 1981, the court ordered the school board to desegregate the secondary student population through the establishment of three high schools and three middle schools, beginning September 1981, and to take further actions to complete desegregation of the entire student population by the beginning of the 1982-83 school year. The actual assignment plan for secondary students was submitted by the Board in August 1981 and on August 13, 1981, this court permitted that plan to go into effect for only the 1981-82 school year.

 Under the terms of the July 23, 1981 order, the School Board was to submit a plan for full desegregation, including elementary schools, to the court by December 15, 1981. The Board later requested an extension of time, which was granted, and the plan was filed on January 29, 1982. Plaintiffs also submitted a plan on February 8, 1982. The court held hearings on both these plans beginning March 2, 1982.

 At the conclusion of these hearings, in a conference of counsel, the court indicated to the parties that, as presented, the court considered the Board's plan to be unacceptable and gave them until April 15, 1982 to present an alternative plan. The court further indicated that it was not ready at that time to adopt the plaintiff's plan, despite the obvious inadequacies of the plan submitted by Woodland Hills.

 In making a plan one postulate must always be kept in mind. Nothing in any plan considered by the court in any way interferes with or impedes the ability of the School Board and its employees to offer a high quality of education to all of its students in all of the schools in the District. We frequently heard the objection that the Board was considering quality of education in its proposals, and this they should do without question. The inferior quality of education rendered previously in component parts of this District to the predominantly black schools in the black residential areas through a neglect that was less than benign, points up the premise that it was the lack of quality education for these students that was the precipitating factor in this lawsuit. The statements about quality education in this case have never shown specifically how quality education is impaired by any desegregation plan considered.

 In making our determination, we are mindful of the remedial standards that must be maintained in any school desegregation case. In Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklinburg Board of Education, 402 U.S. 1, 91 S. Ct. 1267, 28 L. Ed. 2d 554 (1971), the Supreme Court enumerated guidelines which are the governing standards in an effective desegregation remedy. The remedy must eliminate invidious racial distinctions. Swann, supra at 18, 91 S. Ct. at 1277. Specific affirmative efforts must be made to produce an integrated body of school personnel. Id. at 19-20, 91 S. Ct. at 1277-78. The plan must deal with school construction and abandonment in such a way that does not perpetuate or re-establish segregated schools. Id. at 20-21, 91 S. Ct. at 1278. And finally, the plan must achieve the "greatest possible degree of actual desegregation." Id. at 31, 91 S. Ct. at 1283. See also, Evans v. Buchanan, 582 F.2d 750 (3d Cir. 1978). With these general principles in mind, we will discuss the individual plans currently before the court.

 At the outset, we note that the initial duty to eliminate a racially segregated school system lies with the school authorities themselves. The Board of Directors of Woodland Hills School District has the burden and responsibility to come forward with a plan that promises realistically to eliminate segregation. Swann, supra, 402 U.S. at 13-14, 91 S. Ct. at 1274-75, Green v. County School Board, 391 U.S. 430, 439, 88 S. Ct. 1689, 1694, 20 L. Ed. 2d 716 (1968). This court has repeatedly stated and made every effort to allow the School Board to run its own affairs. The Board has been given every opportunity to come up with an acceptable student assignment plan, including several extensions of time. When it appeared that the plan submitted by the Board would not meet constitutional standards, they were given another opportunity to revise their plan to include those changes the court indicated were necessary.

 The revised plan, however, continues to fall short of constitutional standards. We are under an obligation to insure that the constitutional violation found by this court is remedied, and due to the lateness of the hour, we cannot permit any more delays. When the local authorities fail in their obligation to provide a solution, it becomes the duty of the court to order a remedy.

 
Swann, supra, 402 U.S. at 16, 91 S. Ct. at 1276.

 The burden is on the School Board to show that the plans they have submitted are the most effective means of accomplishing complete desegregation. This burden is particularly heavy where other, more promising, proposals are available and before the court.

 
It is incumbent on the school board to establish that its proposed plan promises meaningful and immediate progress toward disestablishing state-imposed segregation * * * (T)he availability to the board of other more promising courses of action ... places a heavy burden upon the board to explain its preference for an apparently less effective method (and) ... if there are reasonably available other ways ... promising speedier and more effective conversion to a unitary, nonracial school system (the board plan) must be held unacceptable.
 
Green, supra, 391 U.S. at 439-441, 88 S. Ct. at 1694-96.

 We recognize that the Board has a heavy burden. The majority of its members were members of the boards of constituent school districts that consistently opposed any desegregation remedy that involved their districts and authorized appeals that are still pending. Even with the best of present intentions old loyalties are hard to forget. They are also under intense present pressures from individuals and groups who oppose any efforts to carry out the desegregation order, by open tactics of harassment and intimidation.

 The Board has failed to meet the burden of proving that either of the plans it has submitted to the court is the most effective means of achieving complete desegregation. Therefore, we reject the Board's proposals.

 The particular objections to the Board's proposals are well documented in the record and would be too voluminous to repeat here. We will discuss those failings of the plans which we consider to be the most crucial.

 The Board's first plan, submitted January 29, 1982, has several major deficiencies. One of the first problems with this proposal is that it is a five year plan of which only the first year is detailed with any degree of certainty. Although planning for the future is commendable and necessary, it also means that complete desegregation would not be achieved for another five years. Also, the five year structure itself was extremely vague with no definite plan for specific steps to be taken each year. It was simply an outline of what they expected the configuration to be five years from now. Without specific commitments further delays might occur in the future, continually postponing complete desegregation. Any plan approved by this court must achieve desegregation now.

 We note, however, that the plan's ultimate goal of a single high school for the District is a desirable one since that would necessarily assure desegregation at the high school level and unify the district. It is a concept that is highly desirable from the standpoint of quality education and equality of educational opportunity. Nothing in what the court now orders should prevent the School Board from continuing to plan for that ultimate goal as the student population declines over the years.

 The overall deficiency with the Board's January 29th proposal is that it fails to eliminate racial distinctions and places the burden of desegregation on the black community. This result is evident in several fundamental aspects of the Board's plan.

 In contrast to this vast reassignment of black students relatively few of the white students are reassigned to formerly black schools and none of the white neighborhoods are broken up as are the black neighborhoods. Some white students are reassigned to the formerly black school, Fairless. But most other reassignment of white students is a result of the closing of some formerly white schools and involves assignment to other, predominantly white, contiguous schools.

 The obvious result of this pattern is that the black neighborhoods become disjointed and disconnected with regard to the total school system. They bear the burden of reassignment imposed which often means transportation to schools far from their homes throughout their education. In contrast, the white neighborhoods are maintained as a cohesive unit and white students are assigned to schools within or very near their neighborhood. The transportation of white students does not involve as great distances as that for blacks and varies little from the amount of bussing that existed in the individual school districts prior to the creation of Woodland Hills.

 Under the Board's plan, the burden of transportation and breakdown of community falls again on the black students during their secondary education. Some of the small pockets and islands created for elementary assignments are split again for secondary school assignments. This means that some black students would attend elementary school with one group of students and then be split apart and attend secondary schools with an entirely different group of students. This process occurs only among black students. The Board's plan would never similarly split white students who will attend school with the same elementary group throughout their education.

 The Board's plan, then, places an unfair burden on the victims of the constitutional violation in three major respects. First, the plan generally speaking provides for only one-way bussing of black students away from their neighborhoods to white schools, while white students remain in their former neighborhood schools. Second, the black area of the District is dissected into small unrelated areas which must result in a breakdown of the black community into disjointed factions, while the white neighborhoods are maintained as whole communities. Finally, the alienation which results when groups of children are continually split apart and shuttled between schools with differing student bodies will fall primarily on black students, while white students continue their education as a cohesive group.

 All three of these results of the Board's plan place an unfair burden on the black community. Furthermore, the overall dissection of the black neighborhood into small groups and the one-way bussing of these small groups of students into white communities perpetuates the racial distinctions this case was intended to eliminate. The black students would always be outsiders in the formerly white schools.

 Therefore, we find that the overall design of the Board's January 29 plan of desegregation does not meet constitutional standards and is unacceptable. There are also certain specific aspects of the Board's plan which the court considers defective; in particular, building utilization and the retention of racially identifiable schools.

 Rankin Elementary is a school constructed in two sections. The Building Utilization Study conducted by an architectural firm on behalf of the school district reports that the original portion, called the McGrady Building, is an antiquated facility that should be closed. The newer portion, however, is in very good condition and currently houses most of the classroom space. The architects recommend that the McGrady Building be replaced to provide the necessary support facilities for the 1960 classroom addition.

 Despite this recommendation of their own architects, the Board's plan calls for the closing of Rankin, while it maintains other elementary schools in the identifiably white districts which are not in as good condition; Atlantic, Bessemer, and Newmyer. In fact, the architects' ...


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