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May 19, 1980 – KNX-AM Documentary: School Busing – Day Of Decision – Gordon Skene Sound Collection –
This day in 1980 culminated 17 years worth of debate, argument and courtroom showdowns – all over the question of busing and integration of L.A. City Schools. An issue that deepened divisions and left more questions than answers.
Busing was the practice of assigning and transporting students to schools within or outside their local school districts in an effort to diversify the racial make-up of schools. While the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education declared racial segregation in public schools unconstitutional, many American schools continue to remain largely uni-racial due to housing inequality. In an effort to address the ongoing de facto segregation in schools, the 1971 Supreme Court decision, Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education, ruled that the federal courts could use busing as a further integration tool to achieve racial balance.
Busing met considerable opposition from both white and black people. The movement of large numbers of white families to suburbs of large cities, a phenomenon known as white flight, reduced the effectiveness of the policy. Many whites who stayed moved their children into private or parochial schools; these effects combined to make many urban school districts predominantly nonwhite, reducing any effectiveness mandatory busing may have had.
In 1963, a lawsuit, Crawford v. Board of Education of the City of Los Angeles, was filed to end segregation in the Los Angeles Unified School District. The California Supreme Court required the district to come up with a plan in 1977. The board returned to court with what the court of appeal years later would describe as “one of if not the most drastic plan of mandatory student reassignment in the nation”. A desegregation busing plan was developed, to be implemented in the 1978 school year. Two suits to stop the enforced busing plan, both titled Bustop, Inc. v. Los Angeles Board of Education, were filed by the group Bustop Inc., and were petitioned to the United States Supreme Court. The petitions to stop the busing plan were subsequently denied by Justice Rehnquist and Justice Powell. California Constitutional Proposition 1, which mandated that busing follow the Equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution, passed in 1979 with 70 percent of the vote. The Crawford v. Board of Education of the City of Los Angeles lawsuit was heard in the Supreme Court in 1982. The Supreme Court upheld the decision that Proposition 1 was constitutional, and that, therefore, mandatory busing was not permissible.
The Los Angeles busing system had been ordered by Superior Court Judge Paul Egly on the basis of state law and state court decisions. California residents recently voted by 2 to 1 to eliminate these legal props for the Los Angeles busing scheme, and forced pro-busing groups to first prove intentional segregation busing could be ordered.
Egly’s plan had forced more than 23,000 of the district’s 529,000 pupils to take buses to distant schools. The school board said in March that it would allow the parents of any of the 23,000 pupils to sent their children to neighborhood schools today, the first day after spring vacation, and rejected pleas from teacher groups that the midterm shift would cause confusion and chaos.
Lawyers and school officials briefly were thrown into turmoil when a U.S. district court judge unexpectedly issued a temporary restraining order to stop the return of children to their neighborhood schools. The judge agreed with lawyers for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People that they still had a chance of proving that the school district was unconstitutionally segregated and that stopping the busing would cause irreparable harm to minority pupils in inner-city areas. A hastily convened three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit overturned the restraining order, and U.S. Supreme Court Justice William H. Rehnquist refused an NAACP request to keep the busing system in place. Rehnquist said, however, that he at least would hear both sides.
To get a better idea of what was going on at the time, here is a documentary produced by Los Angeles radio station KNX, broadcast on May 19, 1980 called “Day Of Decision”.