Pupil Assignment Laws

Marion A. Wright, vice president of the Southern Regional Council, called student placement laws a „legalistic horse game” designed to prevent black children from entering white schools. The NAACP considers many features of the laws to be unconstitutional and goes on to argue that, in theory and practice, they impose unjustified and generally insurmountable burdens on the average black child seeking the equality of education that is supposed to be guaranteed to him by both the Constitution and the 1954 Supreme Court decision. Many legal experts agree with this view and, indeed, the success of the laws in the courts has caused considerable astonishment among experts. In 1957, a group of North Carolina parents filed a lawsuit demanding that their children not have to go through the procedures of the state`s Student Placement Act to ensure educational equality. The Fourth District Court ruled against them and the Supreme Court upheld the decision. A second major test came in 1958, when a trial testing Alabama`s student placement law went to the Supreme Court. In a one-sentence notice, the court upheld the Fifth Circuit`s decision that the provisions of the law themselves were constitutional. (The Fifth Circuit also ruled the Arkansas law constitutional.) In 1959, the Supreme Court dismissed another lawsuit in North Carolina that also sought admission of a black child to a white school without resorting to the full procedure of the Housing Act.

And in a third case in North Carolina, the Supreme Court upheld the Fourth District`s decision that Montgomery County, North Carolina, operated under a student placement law and therefore did not have to develop a general desegregation plan. In its efforts to circumvent the Supreme Court`s decision and prevent or delay integration, the South tried many approaches: school closure laws, „interposition,” scholarship assistance for parents who preferred to send their children to all-white schools, anti-NAACP laws, economic retaliation, bullying, and violence. But only one technique – the Student Placement Act – has had great success in court. Technology is clearly becoming the South`s main weapon in maintaining school segregation. The Student Assignment Act came into force in March 1955. It removed all references to race in state school laws and transferred responsibility for enrollment, enrollment and transportation of students from the state Ministry of Education to county and city school boards. The law created vague criteria to regulate the transfer of students between schools, including previous schools, place of residence, and even „local conditions.” A complicated appeal process to discourage parents from challenging a school board`s decision was also launched. In practice, the constellation of legal and social power against the black student and his family prevents most from applying. Many communities that have student housing laws are willing to put the greatest economic pressure on all Black parents who apply on behalf of their children. Moreover, children who win in court face at best a cold reception when they come to school – especially in the lower grades – and even the bravest black parents are reluctant to witness such a situation with their children.

As a result, it is often difficult for black leaders to get parents to apply. And to further reduce their numbers, when the NAACP makes organized attempts to ensure at least token integration, it fights primarily for the most promising applications to establish the discriminatory intent of laws. The Supreme Court`s upholding of the Alabama Student Placement Act was deeply disillusioned for many blacks in the South. Initially, placement laws prevented „class actions” from the outset. The cases that led to the Supreme Court`s decision in 1954 were „class actions,” meaning that the court`s decision became a binding rule for all cases. But under student placement laws, each aspiring to equality in education is left alone and opposes any power and pressure that the community and state may exert against them. Even if he ultimately wins in court, the next applicant faces the same obstacles and barriers. The Supreme Court`s decision confirmed this fact. In some cases, however, circuit courts are already beginning to review student placement laws. Several recent court decisions suggest that the wall created by the favorable 1958 Supreme Court decision on Alabama`s status may not be impenetrable.

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