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Unlike federal desegregation, Pennsylvania’s desegregation litigation is brought pursuant to the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (1955), not the equal protection provisions of the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution, and thus Pennsylvania desegregation cases are not directly affected by federal law. The Pennsylvania Human Relation Commission enforces Pennsylvania’s desegregation efforts. 

The seminal case on desegregation in Pennsylvania is Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission v. Chester School District (1967). Chester is important because it establishes the Commission’s authority to compel school districts to cure de facto segregation and to direct the school districts to take immediate action to desegregate schools. In Balsbaugh v. Rowland (1972), the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania held that the Commission had the authority to use computers and busing to assign students in a manner that reduced racial segregation and that the elimination of “neighborhood schools” using public monies was not an equal protection violation.  

In a suit that had been in court for more than two decades (1973-94), a state judge ruled that the Philadelphia school district had not done enough to desegregate its schools. The Court in Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission v. School District of Pennsylvania (1994)(HRC VI) ordered the School District to develop a new plan containing a long list of improvements. While the court introduced of measures that emphasized performance, the emphasis on desegregation was lost. The cases ceased to be about equity, and instead followed larger educational reform efforts. 

In 2001, the Court of Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission v. School District of Philadelphia (HRC XI), declared it was “satisfied that the School District has made a significant and continued effort to comply with the Remedial Order and that the Comprehensive Safety and Security Plan and the Curriculum Renewal Plan present a renewed opportunity for the School District to effectively respond to many of the educational issues that it faces.”









  • Center for Education and Civil Rights at Pennsylvania State University



  • Erica Frankenberg, Penn State University