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The Civil Rights Division Marks the 69th Anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education

Today we commemorate the 69th anniversary of the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision, the unanimous Supreme Court ruling that overturned the “separate but equal” doctrine in America’s public schools.  Nearly 70 years after the court declared racially segregated schools unequal and unconstitutional, Brown stands as both a transformative moment in our democracy, and as a promise yet unfulfilled.

On a personal note, the long-standing battle to desegregate public schools in Hartford, Connecticut, by way of the Sheff vs. O’Neill litigation, is what inspired my decision to pursue a career as a civil rights lawyer.  As a high school student, I had the opportunity to sit in on the case and I was moved by the fight to ensure a level playing field for Black and Latino students in Hartford. The segregated classrooms and economic disparities in Hartford reflected the picture seen in too many communities across the country.

In fact, in 2022, the U.S. Government Accountability Office reported that nearly 18.5 million students still attend a segregated school today.  The Brown anniversary presents an opportunity to take stock of the progress made while redoubling our commitment to this work.  We continue to fight for equal access for students across the nation, through our docket of nearly 140 open desegregation cases.  For example, just last week we filed a proposed consent order following hard-fought litigation to desegregate a Louisiana school district.  The proposed order, which is pending with the court, will promote students’ ability to transfer schools and pave the way for a robust new magnet school, with the goal of attracting a diverse student body and desegregating a historically Black school zone.    

In addition to our desegregation cases, we also enforce Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act.  Building on Brown’s legacy, the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974,  promote recruitment of diverse faculty, and expanded access for Black students to gifted and talented, Advanced Placement, and science, technology, engineering, and mathematics classes.  We also seek to address the many forms of discrimination that limit students’ opportunities, and serve as roadblocks to their success in school and beyond, such as:  disproportionate and unfair school discipline; race and gender-based discrimination through dress and grooming codes; segregation and exclusion of students with disabilities; and unchecked harassment of students—sometimes even by school officials—just for being who they are. 

In the past year, we have secured settlements with school districts in Iowa, Florida, Alaska, and Washington state to address the discriminatory use of seclusion and restraint against students with disabilities.  We have also reached settlements with school districts in Massachusetts and two districts in California to meet the needs of English learners in those districts and to empower parents to participate fully in their children’s education through language access services.   And we reached a settlement with a school in Vermont after students were subjected to derogatory epithets and comments based on race and sex.

Brown was an enormous step forward for the nation and has inspired countless students, parents, teachers, and educators to work tirelessly to make an equal education a reality for all students.

Today, much of our work would not be possible without the courageous students, parents and communities who contact us, share their stories, and file complaints to ensure schools are safe, welcoming environments free from discrimination and harassment.  Their action to ensure that schools are safe and welcoming, in keeping with the spirit and legacy of Brown, is “the very foundation of good citizenship.”

A few weeks ago, I visited Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas – the place where nine Black students, known as the Little Rock Nine, were blocked from entering the school in defiance of Brown and in resistance to the Court’s integration mandate.  The school today is a thriving, high-performing, racially-integrated institution that stands as a model for what all public schools should look like in our country.  We remain steadfast in our commitment to using all available tools to make Brown’s promise real so that we may ensure a future of educational fairness, equity, and justice for all – one in which education is provided, at long last, “to all on equal terms.”

Link to Fact Sheet.

Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke at Little Rock Central High School


Updated May 17, 2023