Goss v. Board of Education

At issue in Goss v. Board of Education (1963) was the constitutionality of the transfer provisions of a desegregation plan in Tennessee. Goss stands out as an example of the Supreme Court’s growing impatience with both the slow rate of desegregation and ongoing state-created barriers to the efforts to dismantle segregated school systems. Goss is additionally noteworthy insofar as it is a forerunner of later choice plans that were litigated in the fight to remedy segregated schools and districts.

Facts of the Case

A county board of education, which was home to a number of school systems, submitted a plan in an attempt to desegregate its formerly unitary schools through rezoning. Under the desegregation plan, the terms of the transfer provisions allowed students who lived in areas that were rezoned and were minorities at their newly assigned schools to transfer, based on race, back to their formerly segregated schools, where their race would have been in the majority.

Both a federal trial court and the Sixth Circuit approved the transfer plan, though it did not address students who wished to transfer from a segregated school to a desegregated school. As such, African American parents and students challenged the validity of the transfer plan, because insofar as its provisions were based solely on race, it perpetuated a racially segregated school system.

The Court’s Ruling

On further review, a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court reversed in favor of the plaintiffs in holding that the racial classifications for transfers between schools violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Court noted that in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka I (1954), it had ruled that stateimposed separation in public schools was inherently unequal. The Court added that the transfer provisions ran counter to its opinion in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka II (1955), wherein it directed federal trial courts to consider the adequacy of plans in creating unitary, racially nondiscriminatory school systems.

The Court indicated that the fact that each race was free to transfer to a segregated school did not save the plans, because the transfer provisions would clearly have operated in one direction and would have tended to perpetuate segregation. The Supreme Court also reasoned that the transfer provisions did not meet the Brown II mandate of good-faith compliance at the earliest practicable date and with all deliberate speed due to the local difficulties and barriers that it created. In reversing, the Court concluded by remanding for further proceedings.

Deborah Curry

See also Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka; Brown v. Board of Education and Equal Educational Opportunities; Dual and Unitary Systems; Equal Protection Analysis

Further Readings

  • Hunter, R. C., & Donahoo, S. (2004). The implementation of Brown in achieving unitary status. Education and Urban Society, 36, 342–354. 
  • Russo, C. J., Harris, J. J., III, & Sandridge, R. F. (1994). Brown v. Board of Education at 40: A legal history of equal educational opportunities in American public education. Journal of Negro Education, 63, 297–309. 

Legal Citations