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.
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:
Research, Evidence, and Point of View:
1, 2, 4
1, 2, 3, 4
Subject Areas: United States History, Government, and Technology
California State Archives:
California Supreme Court:
United States Supreme Court:
Ward v. Flood, 1872
Tape v. Hurley, 1885
Piper v. Big Pine School, 1924
Plessy v. Furguson, 1896
Federal Appellate Court
Brown v. Board of Education, 1954
Mendez v. Westminster, 1946
California State Constitution, 1849 and 1879
Materials and Preparation:
Download and print:
Background Information - one for each student
Court Decisions - Student Research Form - one for each student
Offline Student Instructions - as many of each case as necessary for each group
Decisions - as many of each case as necessary for each group
- 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 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.
- Each group will need to have plaintiff and defendant positions and a judge or judicial panel. The judge(s) will ask questions of each side. The group will work together, studying the final decision to determine what questions the court would have asked and to try to determine what information both plaintiff and defendant presented to the courts for the court to reach this decision. Students can then present a mock trial, with the judge(s) handing down the final decision after both plaintiff and defendant make their arguments. The final presentation will be the students studying Brown v. Board of Education, allowing students to consider the historical changes in California. (Note to teacher: the online version of this lesson includes plaintiff and defendant briefs from Ward v. Flood; Tape v. Hurley and Piper v. Big Pine School District. If students have Internet capable computers, they could use get additional information from those sources by going to the student area of and selecting lessons then selecting Student: The Right to Education for California's Minorities and Immigrants.)
- 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 California Supreme Court decisions studied.
- Conduct a mock trial for Piper v. Big Pine School District in a manner similar to the two earlier cases.
- For both Mendez v. Westminster and Brown v. Board of Education, follow the same procedures as in earlier cases.
- Choose an extension to relate this lesson with prior studies or current events.
- Level participation in mock trial efforts.
- Written forms examining the court cases.
- Participation in class discussions.
- A class discussion of current educational opportunities for minorities and immigrants in California schools. How do the cases studied relate to that problem?
- Study the integration battles of the 1950s and 1960s. Where do these rulings fit in the civil rights debate?
- Discuss what role education takes in the advancement of minorities and immigrants.
- 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.