Castaneda v. Pickard

648 F.2d 989 (5th Cir. 1981)



School systems are free to employ ability grouping, even when such a policy has a segregative effect, so long as such a practice is genuinely motivated by educational concerns and not discriminatory motives. The rationale supporting judicial proscription of ability grouping is two-fold. First, ability grouping may perpetuate the effects of past discrimination. Second, a relatively recent history of discrimination may be probative evidence of a discriminatory motive which, when coupled with evidence of the segregative effect of ability grouping practices, may support a finding of unconstitutional discrimination. 


Plaintiffs, Mexican-American children and their parents, who represented a class of others similarly situated, brought suit against defendant school district. Plaintiffs alleged that defendant unlawfully discriminated against Mexican-Americans in violation of the constitution and law. Plaintiffs alleged that defendant used an ability grouping system for classroom assignments which was based on racially discriminatory criteria and discriminated in the hiring and promotion of Mexican-American faculty. The district court entered judgment in favor of defendant but failed to make any findings. Plaintiffs sought review. 


Was it proper for the district court to enter judgment in favor of defendant without inquiring into defendant’s history of discrimination?




The appellate court reversed the district court's judgment and remanded for further proceedings because the district court was required to inquire into defendant's history to determine whether, in the past, defendant discriminated against Mexican-Americans, and then consider whether the effects of any past discrimination were fully erased and, after such inquiry, determine the merits of plaintiffs' claims.

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