In 1961, Scholastic Teacher, the teaching guide for Scholastic magazines, published a brief article about the attempt of a school board in Louisiana to close public schools to avoid integration. The school board's court case, which occurred approximately six years after Brown v. Board of Education, did not end in the school board's favor, as the court declared their request to be unconstitutional. The "Closings Legal?" article (see the PDF of the original or read the transcript, below) was printed before the court ruling.
Are states required under the Constitution to maintain public schools?
Three Federal judges in Louisiana have asked the United States Attorney General and the attorney general of each state to answer this question.
Their replies, due June 5, will help a special District Court in New Orleans decide whether a community can legally close its public schools.
The issue was raised recently when the white residents of St. Helena Parish (county) in Louisiana voted to close their public schools rather than integrate them. The county was the first to act under a recently-enacted state local option law. However, the St. Helena school board promised not to close the schools pending the Federal court’s ruling.
Legal experts have said that the U.S. Constitution does not specifically require states to maintain public schools. But the three judges, in calling for comment on the question, suggested that public education might have become so much a part of the national way of life that to deny such schooling would deprive citizens of their rights without due process of law, in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment.
So far only one county in the country – Prince Edward in “southside” Virginia – has actually closed its public schools to avoid integration. White children there attend private schools, supported largely by public funds, but Negro youngsters for the most part are receiving no schooling at all.
In a move to end this situation, U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy and the Justice Department recently asked a Federal Court to compel Prince Edward to provide an integrated system of public education and to withhold public support of any Virginia public school until the county complies.
Scholastic Teacher, Vol. 18, No. 15, May 17, 1961, page 2-T
Editorial Note: On August 30, 1961, the United States District Court in Baton Rouge, La., determined that the St. Helena Parish school board’s attempt to close public schools violated the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. The court recognized the school board's goal of keeping white and African American children separated in schools as actively "deny[ing] the plaintiffs their declared constitutional right to attend desegregated public schools" (Lawrence Hall v. St. Helena Parish School Board). The court also claimed that closing public schools in only one parish would "unfairly discriminate against the residents of that parish, irrespective of race."