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Mandating Public School Attendance: A Proposal for Achieving Racial and Class Integration
Thurgood Marshall Law Review (2008)
  • Thomas Kleven, Thurgood Marshall School of Law
The paper argues that big city school districts should consider mandating that all children attend public school as a means of integrating their schools racially and economically. Many educators believe that racial and class integration is necessary to equalize educational opportunity. A major factor impeding integration is that many minority and lower income children are essentially trapped in inner city schools where most students are from the same socio-economic and ethnic background. Much of this racial and class separation is the result of white and middle class flight to suburbia over the past 50 years or so. Nevertheless, because significant numbers of white and middle income families remained in and have begun returning to inner cities, while opting to put their children in private schools, the overall population in many inner cities is more ethnically and economically diverse than their schools. Thus, mandating that all children attend public school is one way, and in many instances may be the only viable way, for inner cities to integrate their schools. Implementing mandatory public school attendance and reconciling it with democratic principles may require changes in the way in which public schools operate as well as modifications to prevailing constitutional law. First, pursuant to Pierce v. Society of Sisters, parents have a constitutional right to put their children in private schools. This ruling will have to be reversed or interpreted to allow mandatory public school attendance when a sufficiently strong case for overriding parental prerogatives exists – as I argue is the case here. Second, while some accommodation for religious practices in public schools is already the law, an expansion thereof may be necessary in order to satisfy free exercise concerns resulting from the effective forced closure of the parochial schools many parents choose for religious reasons. In addition, school authorities may have to revamp the educational program in other ways in order to accommodate those who choose private schools because they perceive them to be more tailored to their children’s needs. The paper argues that democratic principles implicit in the Constitution require school authorities to fairly and proportionately respond to the educational needs of all students, and discusses some of the accommodations that mandatory public school attendance may require. Finally, mandating public school attendance calls into question the extent to which public schools may be used to promote the values of the majority. Here I argue that while democratic principles permit school authorities to promote core democratic values, they generally require a neutral approach to the teaching of values. This too may call for the modification of prevailing constitutional law, or at least of the rhetoric appearing in some cases.
Publication Date
Citation Information
Thomas Kleven. "Mandating Public School Attendance: A Proposal for Achieving Racial and Class Integration" Thurgood Marshall Law Review Vol. 34 (2008)
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