Opinion - Williams

Williams v. Board of Education, Parsons
79 Kan. 202 (1908)

No. 16,181. (99 Pac. 216.)


View a scanned copy of the Williams opinion.

1. PUBLIC SCHOOLS--Location--Dangerous Access--Compulsory Attendance. Where children entitled to school privileges in a city, if required to attend a certain school designated by the board of education, would be exposed to daily dangers to life and limb so obvious and so great that in the exercise of reasonable prudence their parents should not permit them to incur the hazard necessarily and unavoidably involved in such attendance, they should not be compelled to attend the school so designated.

2. Separate Schools--Denial of Equal Facilities—Abuse of Discretion. The board of education of a city of the first class may provide separate schools for white and colored children in the grades below the high school, provided equal education facilities are furnished; but where the location of a school for one of these classes is such that access to it is beset with such dangers to life and limb that children of the class for which it is designated ought not to be required to attend it such children are denied equal educational facilities, and the action of the board requiring them to attend such school and denying them admission to any other is an abuse of discretion.

Original proceeding in mandamus. Opinion filed December 12, 1908. Motion to quash denied.


THIS is an original action in mandamus to compel the defendant board of education to admit the plaintiff's children to the Lincoln school in the city of Parsons, and to give them educational facilities equal to those given to the white children in that city, the plaintiff's children being colored.

It appears from the recitals of the alternative writ that the city of Parsons is a city of the first class, and that it is divided into four nearly equal parts by the main line of the Missouri, Kansas & Texas Railway Company, running north and south, and Main street, extending east and west through the city. For a long time the defendant has designated each of these divisions as separate school districts for attendance of school children. The city is also divided into four wards in conformity with these four divisions, each ward containing a schoolhouse. The plaintiff's four children are from six to sixteen years of age, respectively, and prior to the 28th day of September, 1908, had attended the Lincoln school, situated in the first ward, being the northeast district of the city, where the plaintiff resided. On that date the defendant made an order that the plaintiff's children should attend school in the second, or southwest, ward, requiring them to travel a mile and a half to the schoolhouse in that ward, which was known and designated as the colored school or school for colored children, which all children of African descent, commonly called colored, were required to attend. The plaintiff demanded that his children should be allowed to attend the Lincoln school as they had theretofore done, which demand was refused, and thereupon this action was commenced.

The Missouri, Kansas & Texas Railway Company has its machine-shops, foundries and roundhouse in the city, and maintains switch-yards, side-tracks and other tracks adjacent to its main line. Seven of its divisions have their termini in the city, where its trains are made up and are constantly passing over these tracks, and its Osage division extends from a point on its main line in a southwesterly direction. The St. Louis & San Francisco Railroad Company operates a railroad from Pittsburg to Cherryvale through the city, and also has side-tracks and switch-yards within the city. The school for colored children is located on a piece of ground bounded on the east by the tracks of the main line of the Missouri, Kansas & Texas Railway Company, on the west by the tracks of the Osage division of that railway, and on the north by the tracks of the St. Louis & San Francisco Railroad Company. In order to attend the school as now required by the board of education the plaintiff's children must necessarily travel over thirteen tracks of the main line of the Missouri, Kansas & Texas Railway Company, over which more than 100 trains pass daily, and across three tracks of the St. Louis & San Francisco Railroad Company, over which eight trains pass daily; and the passage of such trains and the switching of cars incident to the operation of these railroads obstructs the crossings over which the children must travel so that their lives are imperiled, and they are often so delayed as to make it impossible to determine when they should leave home in order to arrive at the schoolhouse at the proper time. The school building is in such proximity to these tracks that the noise and confusion from the ringing of bells and blowing of whistles and the passage of trains is so great as to interfere with studies in the school. Because of the perils, noises and confusion incident to this situation, the long distance that the children are compelled to travel, and unavoidable delays at the street crossings where they are compelled to stand in all kinds of weather, the children of the plaintiff are practically excluded from attending the public schools of the city without endangering life and limb.

The schoolhouse was located after the various railroad tracks were built. The alternative writ contains the following statement referring to the location of the school for colored children:

"So that said building is bounded on the west by the main line of the Osage division and seven contiguous side-tracks; that said building is bounded on the east by the main line of the said Missouri, Kansas & Texas Railway Company and twelve side-tracks lying contiguous thereto, and is bounded on the north by the main line of said St. Louis & San Francisco Railroad Company and two side-tracks lying contiguous thereto; that the Missouri, Kansas & Texas Railway Company operates at all hours of the day its engines, cars and trains of cars over and upon said sidetracks and main lines of track as above designated."

The defendant moved to quash the alternative writ, and the present hearing is upon this motion. This statement is based upon the recitals of the writ.