Fifth Circuit Relies on Administrative Standards in School Desegregation Cases–Singleton v. Jackson Municipal Separate School District

On June 22, 1965, the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit entered an order requiring the Jackson, Mississippi, Municipal Separate School District to submit a plan for the total desegregation of the district, and specifically requiring that at least four grades be desegregated in the school year 1965-1966. In reaching its decision, the court gave “great weight” to the standards used by the Office of Education of the United States Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW) to determine whether schools qualify for federal financial assistance. The court reasoned that since the objectives of both the judiciary and the executive department in requiring the desegregation of public schools are the same, there should also be a correlation between the standards each employs. This conclusion raises the question of the extent to which HEW’s standards are to be relied on by the courts in their independent evaluations of school desegregation plans. There would seem to be three possible alternatives: (1) use of the HEW standards merely as additional evidence, to be evaluated and weighed by the courts; (2) acceptance of the HEW standards as controlling upon the courts; or (3) acceptance of HEW’s actions based on its’ standards as dispositive of the particular case.