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Columbus Board of Education v. Penick

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Significance: The Supreme Court supported the use of a districtwide urban desegregation plan at a time when many observers thought the Court was unwilling to uphold the use of busing to correct de facto school segregation.


By 1979 the Supreme Court appeared no longer willing to impose large, complicated school desegregation plans involving busing on urban districts as the result of Milliken v. Bradley (1974) and Pasadena Board of Education v. Spangler (1976). However, in a 7-2 vote, the Court supported such a system in Columbus, Ohio. It reaffirmed the basic principles it announced in Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education (1971). The Court insisted that purposeful segregation in a substantial portion of a metropolitan school district created a strong presumption that the board or system had practiced systemwide segregation or tolerated its existence, thereby mandating widespread extraordinary relief. It ruled that as long as a system seemed infected with segregative intent when Brown v. Board of Education (1954) was decided, that school board remained under an obligation to dismantle the segregated system if it had not already done so. This was true even if innocent behavior had produced segregated results. In dissent, Justice Lewis F. Powell, Jr., restated his belief that the de facto/de jure distinction made no sense, and Justice William H. Rehnquist objected to making an improper intrusion into local education decision making.