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The Right to Education for California's Minorities and Immigrants Online Lesson Plan
An online lesson examining the changing legal rights of minorities and immigrants and the development of law relating to access to schooling  

Court Cases

Reference Material

Online Student Instructions

Go To Teacher Lesson Plans

Court cases and laws passed in California will illustrate the changing treatment of minorities and immigrants in California schools. Students will examine these laws and cases to see changes in policies that segregated or excluded certain students from certain schools on the basis of their race or ethnicity.


  • Students will examine the elements of various court cases and how state and federal laws affect them.
  • Students will participate in a series of mock trials to gain a better understanding of the issues involved.

Student Task:
After reading original materials from a court case, students will summarize the positions of a side and participate in a mock trial or participate in a panel discussion of the positions taken by each party and what questions the judges might have asked.

Time Required: Five 50 minute class periods

Grade Level: 11, 12

Lesson Connections and Standards References:
California Department of Education

  • History—Social Science Standards:


  • Historical and Social Sciences Analysis Skills
    Grades Nine through Twelve


    Chronological and Spatial Thinking:
    2, 4
    Research, Evidence, and Point of View:
    1, 2, 4
    Historical Interpretation:
    1, 2, 3, 4

Subject Areas: United States History, Government, and Technology

Resources Used:

California State Archives:
California Supreme Court:
Ward v. Flood, 1872
Tape v. Hurley, 1885
Piper v. Big Pine School, 1924
United States Supreme Court:
Plessy v. Furguson, 1896
Brown v. Board of Education, 1954
Federal Appellate Court
Mendez v. Westminster, 1946
California State Constitution, 1849 and 1879

Materials and Preparation:
Download and print:

Background Information
Court Case Positions - Student Research Form
Court Decisions - Student Research Form
Online Student Instructions


  1. This unit of study deals with five court cases pertaining to the admission of immigrants and minorities to local schools, between 1872 and 1954. These cases could be studied separately or as a sequential unit.

    If all the cases are studied, students can examine four cases originating in California and heard in the California State Supreme Court and the case of Brown v. Board of Education decided by the United States Supreme Court. Students will be assigned to each case, divided into plaintiff and defendant positions. Students will examine the relevant materials, then conduct a mock trial based on the positions outlined in the court materials.

    Students should be directed to the LearnCalifornia.org web site's "Students" button, click on the "Student: The Right to Education for California's Minorities and Immigrants", then click on "Online Student Instructions." If they already have individual case instructions, they can go directly Court Cases. If not they can print the instructions and read their case, then go to "Online Student Instructions".

    Note: To add interest and drama, it is important that the "judges" be the only ones to see the Decisions in Ward v. Flood; Tape v. Hurley and Piper v. Big Pine School District. Since the students studying Mendez v. Westminster have only the decisions, they will read the decision and think backwards to see what arguments were used by each side. The final presentation will be from the students studying Brown v. Board of Education, allowing students to consider parallels between changes at the national level and the state level.


  2. If the material is used as a unit study, students who are studying the Brown v. Board of Education decision could act as judges for the other four cases, reading the verdict handed down by the courts.


  3. After the mock trials for Ward v. Flood and Tape v. Hurley, discuss the United States Supreme Court Decision of Plessy v. Ferguson (see Background Information). Have students speculate on how this decision might affect the earlier State Supreme Court decisions studied.


  4. Conduct a mock trial for Piper v. Big Pine School District. Allow the "judges" to read the decision of the courts.


  5. For both Mendez v. Westminster and Brown v. Board of Education, have students read the decision. Divide the group into three teams. One group would decide what questions the judges might have asked to be able to reach their decision. The groups representing the plaintiffs and defendants will look at the decision and try to determine what arguments their side would have made to try to convince the court. When all are prepared, have the "judges" ask their questions of both sides.
  1. Level participation in mock trial efforts.
  2. Written forms examining the court cases.
  3. Participation in class discussions.

Additional Resources:

  1. Ward v. Flood, 1872
    B. Gordon Wheeler. Black California: The history of African-Americans in the Golden State, (1993).


  2. Tape v. Hurley, 1885
    Go to PBS Site Map web page online to see a section of the broadcast "Ancestors in the Americas" relating to Mamie Tape (Click on the Quicktime or Real Player link for "Sneak peek at Loni Ding's new short documentary, Mamie Tape vs. the Board of Education" within the left side bar).

    Visit the present web site for San Francisco's Spring Valley Elementary School, which Mamie Tape wanted to attend. How does the ethnic background of the students today compare with the students in 1888?


  3. Mendez v. Westminster, 1946


  4. Brown v. Board of Education, 1954
    Monroe Elementary School, one of the four segregated elementary schools for African American children in Topeka, has been made a national historic site, owned by the National Park Service, and open to the public.


  1. A class discussion of current educational opportunities for minorities and immigrants in California schools. How do the cases studied relate to that problem?


  2. Study the integration battles of the 1950s and 1960s. Where do these rulings fit in the civil rights debate?


  3. Discuss what role education takes in the advancement of minorities and immigrants.


  4. Research the records of your local newspaper for the period 1925-1940 looking for how your local schools responded to the idea of "separate but equal" education for minorities or immigrants.


  5. Research the plaintiffs in the case. There are many sources of information about individuals in the United States. One that provides interesting information is the Social Security Death Index. This index provides information on anyone who collected social security benefits before their death. Remind the students that people have only contributed to the Social Security Administration's Social Security program since 1937 and not all people collect from it. In addition, women may change their names when they are married.

    Have students write down the names of plaintiffs involved in these cases. Then have them search their names on the Social Security Death Index.

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