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date: 24 May 2019

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter focuses on district boundary lines, social science evidence, and litigation to consider how they shape student enrollment and segregation. Social science clearly shows that district boundaries continue to hamper school integration by race and income, perhaps more so now than in the past. When it comes to the courts, some decisions have recognized the damaging impact of school-related boundaries when it comes to school desegregation. Others have not. Over the past few decades, the ambiguity of the law has helped create differing boundary line arrangements across the country. The chapter reviews three different areas to understand the legal and political significance of boundaries. St. Louis, Missouri, shows us that interdistrict desegregation plans where district boundaries remain intact face uphill battles, with implications for state court cases in the highly fragmented Northeast. In Alabama, recent federal law suggests that the courts may be returning to their earlier understanding of how district boundaries work. In Tennessee, though, federal courts permitted a damaging proliferation of boundary lines. These cases illustrate what social science tells us about district boundaries—that they give shape to segregation. They show that boundary lines are not immutable and that the way they shift matters a great deal in shaping access to opportunity for students, particularly for black, Latino, and low-income students. Ultimately, the chapter argues that a renewed judicial and political understanding of the segregating impact of district boundaries is imperative and offer recommendations for how to mitigate their impact.

Keywords: School segregation, School desegregation, School integration, School district boundaries, Attendance zone boundaries, Catchment areas, School enrollment, Milliken v. Bradley, Interdistrict remedies, Residential segregation

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