The Limits of Desegregation: A Story of Maple School (Part 2)

Part 1 of this series told the story of efforts to desegregate Maple Elementary School in the late 1960s and early 1970s, which was 98% Latino and Black. In 1972 the Fullerton School District Board of Trustees voted 3 to 2 to close Maple and bus all its students to eight “receiving schools” in the District (one-way busing). In making this decision, the Board dismissed proposals from a Human Relations Committee and Maple Neighborhood Group to keep Maple open and adopt reciprocal (2-way) busing between north and south Fullerton schools to achieve integration.

Lopez v. Trustees of the Fullerton Elementary School District

Following the February 1972 school board decision to close Maple school, families from the neighborhood filed a lawsuit against the District, alleging that the desegregation plan violated the Equal Protection clause of the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution as well as State desegregation laws.

The lawsuit called the closing of Maple School and the one-way busing plan “invidious discrimination” that “imposes the entire burden of desegregation on minority students.”

The lawsuit had the support of the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund, the Orange County Legal Aid Society, the Western Center of Law and Poverty, and the federal office of Economic Opportunity.

Clipping from the Fullerton News-Tribune (3/14/72). Courtesy of the Local History Room of the Fullerton Public Library.

Lopez v. Trustees of the Fullerton Elementary School District was filed on behalf of “all Spanish surnamed and Negro students attending Maple School.”

During the trial, which took place in late June and early July 1972, Orange County Superior Court Judge William C. Speirs asked, “Is one-way busing the best way to comply with the law? Or is it just a means of avoiding two-way busing?”

Morris Schneider, a consultant in intergroup relations for the State Department of Education “testified that one-directional busing away from closed schools, rather than reciprocal busing, is being done in Redlands, Palm Springs, Corona, Riverside, and San Bernardino,” according to the LA Times.

Schneider said the Fullerton school board’s plan “meets the requirements of the law.”

Under cross-examination by Joe Ortega from the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund, “Schneider admitted that only Mexican American and Negro schools have been closed in districts where it has been necessary to adopt plans for achieving ethnic balance,”  according to the LA Times.

“Isn’t it true, Mr. Schneider, that to your knowledge only Chicano and Black schools have been closed and their students forced to participate in one-way busing?” Ortega asked.

“Yes, as far as I know, that is true,” Schneider said.

Fullerton School District Superintendent Robert Crawford also acknowledged that two-way busing “is not prohibitively costly,” which contradicted statements that were often made at school board meetings when presenting the various integration plans.

On July 3, 1972, Judge Speirs upheld the Fullerton School District’s plan to close Maple School and bus all the children from the neighborhood to other schools in the district.

“Judge Speirs ruled that busing students from Maple School, with 85% Mexican American and 10% Black enrollment, without busing students from predominantly Anglo schools is ‘not racially discriminatory,’” according to the July 4, 1972 LA Times.

Clipping from the Los Angeles Times (7/4/72). Courtesy of the Local History room of the Fullerton Public Library.

“Attorney Joe Ortega of the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund said some members of the Chicano community ‘will be very bitter,’ and ‘some will do their best to live with it and get their children to schools,” according to the LA Times.

Thus, beginning in September 1972, Maple School was closed as an elementary school and all its students were bused to other schools in the district.

According to the Fullerton News-Tribune, “The Maple School will house an expanded preschool, a community cultural center, and will be the site of a Community Open School, an alternative mini school this fall on a pilot basis.”

Reflecting on the impact of closing Maple School, long time Fullerton resident Vivien Jaramillo told The Observer in an interview, “It splits you up so much out of your element that you don’t have any tight bonds with anybody in the neighborhood because they’re all going different places. That part was kind of a bummer, and it was still affecting my kids when they were growing up.”

Retired Fullerton College sociology professor Richard Ramirez, who was involved in formulating the Maple Community’s own desegregation plan (which was not adopted), told The Observer in an interview, “It’s best categorized as institutional racism.”

To be continued…

2 replies »

  1. I moved to Fullerton in early May 1974; in that month, I was taken to Maple to enroll. Family was surprised to find out school “closed to new students”-passing by on Lemon, we’d seen kids playing. They said kids in my area (S. Princeton Ave—South of Commonwealth but between Lemon and Raymond) were being sent to Raymond Elem…but suggested a Fall entry would be better. Hadn’t heard anything about this, in Anaheim or Westminster..?!

  2. I am really loving this series and look forward to each new part. I remember Maple area parents coming to each board and council meeting to demand reopening. Really goes to how powerful citizens can be when they stand up together.