Making Schools More Separate and Unequal: Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1

Erwin Chemerinsky, UC Irvine School of Law


American public schools are increasingly separate and unequal. By every measure public schools are more becoming more racially segregated. The Supreme Court deserves a great deal of the blame for this. There has not been a single Supreme Court decision since Rodriguez in 1973 that has furthered desegregation or enhanced the equality of American public education. The Supreme Court’s major cases on equal educational opportunity – including Rodriguez, Milliken, Dowell, – have limited the ability of courts to create equal educational opportunity. But many schools boards on their own implemented plans to enhance racial diversity and desegregate their schools. In 2007, Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School Dist. No. 1, imposed significant, new limits on the ability of school systems to adopt such voluntary desegregation programs. Part I of this essay describes the Court’s decision in Parents Involved. Part II describes the effects of the decision on American public education. Part III explains why the decision is fundamentally flawed in its premises and its conclusions. Parents Involved must be understood in the context of now 40 years of Supreme Court decisions that have contributed to their being increasingly separate and unequal schools.