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In the course of supervising desegregation plans, federal courts have the authority to relinquish supervision and control of school districts in incremental stages, before full compliance has been achieved in every area of school operations. While retaining jurisdiction over the case, the court may determine that it will not order further remedies in areas where the school district is in compliance with the decree.
In a class action filed by respondents, black schoolchildren and their parents, the District Court, in 1969, entered a consent order approving a plan to dismantle the de jure segregation that had existed in the DeKalb County, Georgia, School System (DCSS). The court retained jurisdiction to oversee implementation of the plan. In 1986, petitioner DCSS officials filed a motion for final dismissal of the litigation, seeking a declaration that DCSS had achieved unitary status. The court found that DCSS was a unitary system with regard to four of the six factors identified in Green v. School Bd. of New Kent County, 391 U.S. 430, 20 L. Ed. 2d 716, 88 S. Ct. 1689: student assignments, transportation, physical facilities, and extracurricular activities. Although ruling that it would order no further relief in the foregoing areas, the court refused to dismiss the case because it found that DCSS was not unitary with respect to the remaining Green factors: faculty assignments and resource allocation, the latter of which the court considered in connection with a non-Green factor, the quality of education being offered to the white and black student populations. The court ordered DCSS to take measures to address the remaining problems. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding, inter alia, that a district court should retain full remedial authority over a school system until it achieved unitary status in all Green categories at the same time for several years; that because, under this test, DCSS had never achieved unitary status, it could not shirk its constitutional duties by pointing to demographic shifts occurring prior to unitary status; and that DCSS would have to take further actions to correct the racial imbalance. DCSS appealed.
Should a district court retain full remedial authority over a school system until it achieved unitary status in all Green categories at the same time for several years?
The Court reversed the judgment of the Court of Appeals, holding that a federal court in a school desegregation case has the authority and discretion to order an incremental or partial withdrawal of the court's supervision and control with respect to discrete categories in which a school district has achieved compliance with a court-ordered desegregation plan, before full compliance has been achieved in every area of school operations. According to the Court, the District Court did not, as a matter of law, lack discretion to permit the school system to regain control over student assignments, transportation, physical facilities, and extracurricular activities, while retaining court supervision over the areas of faculty and administrative assignments and the quality of education, where full compliance had not been demonstrated, for there was no requirement that until there was full compliance, heroic measures had to be taken to insure racial balance in student assignments systemwide in the late phases of carrying out a decree, when the imbalance was attributable to independent demographic forces, rather than to the prior de jure segregation system or to a later violation by the school system. On remand, the Court of Appeals was to determine what issues were open for the Court of Appeals' further consideration in light of the parties' arguments and the principles set forth by the Supreme Court, and thereupon was to order further proceedings as necessary, or order an appropriate remand to the District Court.