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The Right to Education in California 

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Ward v. Flood
California Supreme Court (1872)

The parents of an eleven-year-old student, Mary Frances Ward, of African descent applied to have their daughter attend the local elementary school, Broadway Grammar School, in San Francisco. The principal, Noah F. Flood, denied her attendance, because there was a separate school provided for colored students. Mary’s parents, A. J. and Harriet Ward, sued various school administrators demanding that she be admitted to the school.

For this activity, read the materials for one side of the case. If you want to read from the perspective of the plaintiff (the Wards), read the Application for Mandate to understand the basis of the lawsuit, then read the Brief of Plaintiff. If you want to read from the perspective of the plaintiff (Flood), read the Answer of Defendant. After reading, print and complete the appropriate part of the Court Case Positions - Student Research Form.



Tape v. Hurley
California Supreme Court (1885)

An eight-year-old student of Chinese descent, Mamie Tape, applied to attend Broadway Grammar School in San Francisco. The principal, Jennie Hurley, denied her attendance because the trustees of the school district prohibited Chinese students from attending local schools. Her father, Joseph Tape, filed suit to allow her to attend this school and receive an education in her neighborhood.

For this activity, read the materials with the perspective of one side of the case; the plaintiff was Tape; the defendant, Hurley. Read all relevant materials including the Appellant's Points and Authorities; Transcript on Appeal; and Respondent's Points and Authorities. After reading, print and complete the Court Case Positions - Student Research Form.

Then read the Decision of the California Supreme Court. Is it what you expected? What would you have decided? Can you explain why the justices made the decision they did in 1885?



Piper v. Big Pine School District
California Supreme Court (1924)

In 1921, the California State Legislature passed an education bill that Governor William Stephens signed into law. This law stated that all Indian students must go to the federal Indian school in their area if there was one set up by the federal government (see Background Information). In 1924, Alice Piper, a “Californian Indian” who was then 15 years old, was refused admittance to the local school because there was a federal school for Native Americans not far from her hometown of Big Pine in Inyo County. Her parents felt that since she was not of that tribe that she should be able to go to the local school and sued the local school district.

For this activity, pick one side of the case; the plaintiff was Piper; the defendant was the Big Pine School District. With this position in mind, read all relevant materials including the Brief of Complaint; Respondent's Closing Brief; and Opinion. After reading, print and complete the appropriate part of the Court Case Positions - Student Research Form.

Then read the Decision of the California Supreme Court. Is it what you expected? What would you have decided? Can you explain why the justices made the decision they did in 1924? Did the United States Supreme Court’s Ruling in Plessy v. Ferguson influence their decision?



Mendez v. Westminster
Federal Appellate Court (1947)

In Westminster, a city in Orange County, Gonzalo Mendez and other parents of Mexican American students sued school throughout Orange County because they felt that these school districts were segregating their children into certain schools for “Mexican” students. Rather than sue in California courts, the parents brought their suit into federal courts since they felt this segregation violated their children’s rights under the 14th amendment to the United States Constitution.

For this activity, you will read the Mendez v. Westminster decision of the court. From that decision, try to determine what arguments Mendez and the other parents made in suing the court decision. Likewise, try to determine what arguments the school districts used to defend their actions. After reading, print and complete the Court Case Decisions - Student Research Form.

Why do you think the judges ruled the way they did in 1947? How was this decision different than the California’s earlier decisions in Ward v. Flood, Tape v. Hurley, and Piper v. Big Pine School District?



Brown v. Board of Education
United States Supreme Court (1954)

In 1954, the Supreme Court's Brown v. Board of Education decision overturned the Plessy v. Ferguson ruling that had established the doctrine of "separate but equal" as constitutional (see Background Information). In the 1950s, parents of African American children in four different states sued on behalf of their children who were forced to go to "colored" schools that the parents considered inferior to those available to white children in the same area. One of these parents was Oliver Brown whose daughter Linda Brown attended school in Topeka, Kansas. His name was listed first on the suit filed in Kansas and the case came to bear his name and that of Board of Education in Topeka, Kansas.

For this activity, read the Brown v. The Board of Education, Topeka, Kansas decision of the court. From that decision, try to determine what arguments Brown and the other parents made in suing the court decision. Likewise, try to determine what arguments the school districts used to defend their actions. Finally, imagine that you are a Supreme Court justice and a list of questions for the plaintiffs and the defendants. The questions should be designed to help them make your decision. After each step, print and complete the appropriate part of the Court Case Decisions - Student Research Form.

Why do you think this case is mentioned more often than the Mendez v. Westminister case in 1947? What is different about this decision than the earlier decision? Would you have ruled the same way?



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