Continuing Post-Brown Retrenchment: The Chilling Effect of PICS on a School District Seeking to Combat Rapid Resegregation


Nashville, Tennessee was once heralded as a desegregation success story. Three decades after the United States Supreme Court’s seminal decision in Brown v. Board of Education, schools in Nashville were, in a statistical sense, desegregated. Since then, Nashville schools have returned to a far more segregated state, mirroring many cities across the United States where desegregation progress has receded. This national trend toward resegregation led to numerous districts adopting non court-ordered voluntary desegregation plans. Yet the potential success of such efforts was stifled by the 2007 United States Supreme Court decision Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District (PICS), in which the Court held that a school district could not solely consider a student’s race in school assignment decisions. However, a concurrence by Justice Kennedy in PICS did leave the door ajar to considering race in a generalized way. Nashville was one of approximately a dozen school districts that pursued this approach.

This Comment shines a light on Nashville, and its rich history and fascinating post-Brown journey. It delves into what took place after Nashville’s level of school integration peaked in the 1990s. In particular, this Comment highlights the court decisions, federal agency actions, and school district initiatives that shaped Nashville’s attempts to combat rapid resegregation. Tracking the demographics in one hyper- segregated cluster in North Nashville, this Comment explores whether Nashville’s renewed desegregation effort has been successful. Ultimately, judicial constraints paired with political and cultural factors that allow for resegregation tell a story of a city’s schools, nearly seventy years post-Brown, that remain highly segregated.