Opinion - Thurman-Watts

Thurman-Watts v. The Board of Education of the City of Coffeyville and A. I. Decker
115 Kan. 328 (1924)

No. 25,305.
THE CITY OF COFFEYVILLE and A. I. DECKER, as Superintendent of
Public Schools etc., Defendants.


View a scanned copy of the Thurman-Watts opinion.

1. MANDAMUS--Cities Of First Class--Authority of School Officers to Separate White and Colored Children. In a city of the first class neither the superintendent of schools nor the board of education has authority to separate pupils of the negro race from those of the white race on account of race or color unless so authorized by statute.

2. HIGH SCHOOLS--Interpretation of Statutes--Ninth Grade--Is a High-school Grade. Under the law and the educational system of this state, the ninth grade is a high-school grade, even in cities which maintain junior high schools, under the plan of six years elementary work, three years intermediate work, and three years senior-high-school work.

3. SAME--Discrimination on Account of Color of Pupils is Forbidden by Statute. Discrimination on account of color is forbidden by statute in all high schools of this state, except the high schools of a single city.

Original proceeding in mandamus. Opinion filed January 25, 1924. Writ allowed.

Elisha Scott, and R. M. Vandyne, both of Topeka, for the plaintiff.
A. R. Lamb, and Clement A. Reed, both of Coffeyville, for the defendants.

The opinion of the court was delivered by

HOPKINS, J.: This is an original proceeding in mandamus brought to compel the board of education of the city of Coffeyville to admit to the Roosevelt junior high school of that city, a daughter of the plaintiff who has completed the eighth grade and is ready to enter the ninth grade or high school. Plaintiff is a resident taxpayer of the city of Coffeyville. She and her daughter are colored. Her daughter is sixteen years of age.
The controversy turns largely on the question whether or not the ninth grade is a part of the high school. Coffeyville is a city of the first class. If the grade to which plaintiff's daughter is entitled to be enrolled is a part of the high school the defendants have no authority to refuse her admission on the ground that she is colored. The powers and duties of the school board are derived exclusively from the statutes. The school board has no greater power than is conferred upon it by the statutes. Neither the superintendent of schools nor the boards of education have authority to separate white and colored pupils unless that power is expressly given by statute. (Woolridge v. Board of Education, 98 Kan. 397, 403.)

In Knox v. Board of Education, 45 Kan. 152, it was said:

"Until the legislature clearly confers power upon boards of education of cities of the second class to establish separate schools for the education of white and colored children no such power exists." (Syl. ¶ 1.)

The rule there expressed likewise applies to cities of the first class. (See, also, Rowles v. Board of Education, 76 Kan. 361, 91 Pac. 88; Reynolds v. Board of Education, 66 Kan. 672, 72 Pac. 274; Cartwright v. Board of Education, 73 Kan. 32, 34, 84 Pac. 382.)

A pertinent section of the statute reads:

"The board of education shall have power to elect their own officers, make all necessary rules for the government of the schools of such city under its charge and control and of the board, subject to the provisions of this act and the laws of this state; to organise and maintain separate schools for the education of white and colored children, including the high schools in Kansas City, Kan.; no discrimination on account of color shall be made in high schools, except as provided herein; to exercise the sole control over the public schools and school property of such city; and shall have the power to establish a high school or high schools in connection with manual training and instruction or otherwise, and to maintain the same as a part of the public-school system." (R. S. 72-1724.)

Methods of education and courses of study have been and are still undergoing a transition which has resulted in great confusion so far as classification of grades is concerned. Courses originally taught in high schools are being taught in the elementary grades, while courses taught in the elementary grades are being extended into the high schools. In recent years the junior high school has come into vogue. It is a school organized between the elementary school and the senior high school, sometimes called the intermediate school. It usually includes the seventh, eighth and ninth years, though sometimes only the seventh and eighth. It is departmentalized and pupils are promoted by subjects instead of by years or grades of work. Greater elasticity of the curriculum is sought. A manual issued by the state department of public instruction gives extensive information concerning the movement. A large number of the school systems of the state have departed, to some extent, at least, from what was originally known as the "8-4" plan of school organization--eight years in the elementary schools and four years in the high school. While the greater number of schools are still operating under that plan, other systems are being organized on what is termed the "6-2-4" plan--six years in the elementary grades, two years of intermediate and four years of high school. Another plan now gaining in popularity is what is known as the "6-3-3" plan--six years in the elementary grades, three years intermediate (which includes the junior high school) and three years of the senior high school. Coffeyville has adopted the "6-3-3" plan. Conforming to the general transition, the state board of education has authorized certain courses of study for junior high schools. Also the state school book commission has approved certain texts for seventh and eighth grades which, under the new plan, are part of the junior high school.

The transition in educational methods in Kansas is not different from that in other states. A comprehensive volume issued under the direction of the superintendent of public instruction of the state of Ohio, entitled "Ohio High School Standards," referring to the junior high school, states:

"Since the 8-4 organization still characterizes the majority of schools, that type is taken as basic in the discussions of this manual. At the same time there is no lack of awareness of the fact that many school systems have extended the period of secondary education downward to include the 7th and 8th grades, organizing on a 6-6 or more usually a 6-3-3 basis. This the department regards as a distinctly progressive step; it urges upon many of the smaller schools the possibilities that could be realized through a similar reorganization on a modest scale."

Notwithstanding the adoption of the junior-high-school method of organization in many of the schools of this and other states, the official reports filed with the state superintendent of public instruction conform to and furnish data under the standard four-year high-school plan. The official biennial report of the state superintendent of public instruction to the governor is based upon the standard four-year high school. The biennial report of the state superintendent of public instruction for the years ending June 30, 1921, and June 30, 1922, shows the city of Coffeyville operating under a system of eight grades in the elementary school and four grades in the high school. The same method was followed for the school year ending June 30, 1923.