Dayton Board of Education v. Brinkman, I and II

Dayton Board of Education v. Brinkman, I and II (1977, 1979) are judicially related school desegregation cases that originated in the city of Dayton, Ohio. In Dayton Board of Education v. Brinkman I (1977), minority student plaintiffs sued the Dayton school board asserting that, acting in concert with the State Board of Education of Ohio, it had implemented racially segregative policies and practices in violation of their constitutionally protected rights.

The legal doctrine established in Dayton I and II marked an era in the 1970s when the U.S. Supreme Court began to limit the scope of remedies for northern States in de jure desegregation cases and to reinforce the right of local control by school boards consistent with the principles it had enunciated in Swann v. Charlotte- Mecklenburg Board of Education (1971) and Keyes v. School District No.1, Denver, Colorado (1973).

Litigation in Dayton I began in 1972 when the plaintiffs alleged the Dayton board repeatedly failed to comply with the Ohio law mandating that it establish an integrated system. More specifically, the plaintiffs claimed that the segregative policies and practices included

  • discrimination in hiring Black teachers and assigning them to teaching positions; 
  • a designated Black high school, established in 1933, to which only Black teachers were assigned and that had a student enrollment that was all Black; 
  • the creation of optional attendance boundaries that perpetuated systemic racial imbalance throughout the district; and 
  • revocation of its previous resolutions acknowledging responsibility for perpetuating segregative racial policies and practices and committing to a remedial desegregation plan for the district. 

The essence of the plaintiffs’ claim was that the Dayton and state boards operated a racially segregated public school system in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause and the judicial doctrine established in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (1954) .

A federal trial court in Ohio held that the Dayton board historically engaged in racial discrimination in district operations and that de jure segregation was present in the schools as indicated by the following threepart “cumulative violation” of the Equal Protection Clause:

  • substantial racial imbalance in student enrollment patterns; 
  • board utilization of optional attendance boundaries permitting some White students to avoid attending schools with predominantly Black enrollments; and 
  • board revocation, in 1972, of resolutions passed by the previous board acknowledging responsibility for creation of segregative racial patterns and a commitment to a corresponding remedial plan. 

The defendants’ initial appeals incorporated designs for school desegregation remedies that were comparatively narrow in scope. The Sixth Circuit directed the trial court to fashion a districtwide remedial plan, the scope and validity of which were appealed to the Supreme Court.

On further review, the Supreme Court addressed whether a districtwide remedy was appropriate where there was no verification that the student distribution characteristics were the result of the board’s intentionally segregative acts. Writing for the Court in its 7-to- 2 opinion, Justice Rehnquist ruled that consistent with Keyes (1973), if a school board’s segregative acts are not shown to have a districtwide effect, the judiciary cannot impose a systemwide remedy. The Court indicated that in cases where legal and mandatory segregation of the races in schools has been terminated for a long time, it is the primary duty of lower federal courts to evaluate whether the actions of school boards were intended to discriminate against minority students, teachers, and staff, and whether they in fact did so. During such an inquiry, the Court explained, all parties should have the right to introduce additional evidence. In so ruling, the justices directed the lower courts to verify the effect of these violations on the current racial distribution in the district and to validate the scope of incremental segregative effect that they would have had on the racial demographics, absent verification of such constitutional violations.

In short, the Court decided that a desegregation remedy must correspond to the scope of an established violation. The Court found that the cumulative violation criteria applied by the lower court were ambiguous, and it ordered the lower courts to reconsider the facts and to render appropriate complex factual determinations. In conclusion, the Court vacated the Sixth Circuit’s judgment and remanded the dispute for further proceedings.

In remanding Dayton I, the Supreme Court sent a strong message to the lower courts that the scope of desegregation remedies requires a strong correspondence to established constitutional violations. The trial court reviewed the case proceedings before dismissing the plaintiffs’ discrimination complaints. The court reasoned that the plaintiffs failed to prove either that the Dayton board was liable for discrimination or that its acts of intentional discrimination, which were more than 20 years old, contributed to contemporary incremental segregative effects.

On further review, the Sixth Circuit reversed in favor of the plaintiffs, noting that at the time of Brown, the Dayton board operated an unconstitutional dual school system. Moreover, the court maintained that the board was constitutionally obligated to dismantle the dual system and eradicate its residual effects. At the same time, the court pointed out that the board had an affirmative duty not to take any action to impede dismantling the dual school system and its vestiges. Further, the court observed that the Dayton board implemented many post-Brown policies and practices that increased or perpetuated racial segregation. As such, the court directed the board to do more than abandon its previous discriminatory purposes and intentions. According to the court, the board had a responsibility to ensure that pupil assignment practices, configuration of attendance boundaries, grade structure and reorganization, and school construction and abandonment decisions did not have the effect of perpetuating or reestablishing a dual system consistent with the Supreme Court’s analysis in Wright v. Council of City of Emporia (1972). The Supreme Court agreed to intervene, this time in Dayton II.

Following a comprehensive review of Dayton I, in Dayton II, the Supreme Court considered whether the school board have an affirmative duty to eliminate the effects of segregative acts, because it was found to have operated a dual school system in 1954. In Dayton II, the Court held that since there were no “prejudicial errors of fact or law [in it], the judgment appealed from must be affirmed” (p. 542). In writing for the Court in its 5-to-4 judgment, Justice White determined that purposeful discrimination in a substantial part of a school district provided a sufficient basis for an inferential finding of a districtwide discriminatory intent unless otherwise rebutted. Moreover, the Court asserted that because the board operated a dual school system, one could have inferred a connection between such a purpose and racial isolation in other parts of the district. To this end, the Court directed the board to fashion an appropriate remedy.

Dayton I and II make important contributions to school desegregation case law, because they helped to further clarify the criteria and scope of districtwide school desegregation and integration remedies. In Dayton I, the Supreme Court held that where past school board segregative acts were shown to have had districtwide effects, systemic remedies were inappropriate. However, in Dayton II the Court concluded that purposeful discrimination in a substantial part of the district provided a sufficient basis for an inferential finding of districtwide discriminatory intent, unless otherwise rebutted. The Court was thus satisfied that a districtwide desegregation remedy was both legal and appropriate in Dayton II. In addition, the Court decided that the Dayton board had a continuing duty to eradicate the effects of its segregative actions, because it operated a dual system at the time of the Brown I.

John F. Heflin

See also Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka; Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka and Equal Educational Opportunities; Equal Protection Analysis; Fourteenth Amendment; Keyes v. School District No. 1, Denver, Colorado; Segregation, De Facto; Segregation, De Jure; Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education

Further Readings

  • Dayton, J. (1993). Desegregation: Is the court preparing to say it is finished? Education Law Reporter, 84, 897–905. 

Legal Citations