ACLU Says Kentucky's 1975 School Desegregation Decree Should Not Be Set Aside

Affiliate: ACLU of Kentucky
September 13, 1999 12:00 am

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LOUISVILLE, KY — Responding to a court challenge to a 1975 school desegregation order, the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky today said that the order should not be set aside because the promise of equal education has not yet been fully realized.

“African American and other minority students still are not enjoying the same opportunities for academic success as their white counterparts,” said Jeff Vessels, Executive Director of the ACLU of Kentucky.

Vessels said that disparities in disciplinary actions and admittance to Advanced Placement programs, among other things, show that the desegregation decree has not eliminated all vestiges of discrimination.

The issue arose in April 1998, when six African American parents challenged the County school attendance plan in court because their children had been denied admission to Central High School in Jefferson County.

The parents sought an exception to the school attendance policy that required enrollment numbers at each public school to be between 15 percent and 50 percent of African American students. The parents said that the racial limit violates students’ and parents’ constitutional and civil rights.

On June 10, 1999, Judge John G. Heyburn II ruled that some parts of the 1975 desegregation decree are still in effect and that the county school board is still required to “operate a school system free from the vestige of racially identifiable schools.” However, Judge Heyburn’s order also opened the door to any parties wishing to dissolve remaining portions of the 1975 decree and also invited responses to such a motion.

To dissolve the decree, Judge Heyburn specified that a party must demonstrate that the Jefferson County Board of Education “has continued in good faith compliance with its obligations and that it has removed the vestiges of discrimination to the extent possible.”

Further, Judge Heyburn said, “If the decree is dissolved, the court could then consider plaintiffs’ challenge that the school board’s current student-assignment plan violates the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.”

Following Judge Heyburn’s order, a group of parents filed a motion to terminate the 1975 decree.

The ACLU of Kentucky opposes that motion because it believes the 1975 decree has not yet resulted in equal access to educational opportunities for African American and other minority students.

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