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Hobson v. Hansen

United States District Court for the District of Columbia
269 F. Supp. 401 (D.D.C. 1967)


Until 1954, the District of Columbia school system (the district) (defendant) was segregated by race. In 1956, the district adopted a track system, or a grouping of students by ability into separate tracks. Each track was intended to be a separate and self-contained curriculum. The elementary and junior-high schools have three tracks: basic or special academic (for mentally disabled students), general (for average and above-average students), and honors (for gifted students). The senior-high schools have a fourth level, the regular track, which is a college-preparatory track for the above-average students. Students are placed into the tracks based on scores from standardized aptitude tests. Once placed into a track, the students are physically separated from the other tracks. The tracks consist of substantially different educational programming and opportunities. In practice, the original assignment of a track is permanent for 90 percent of students. The lower tracks do not offer adequate remedial and compensatory educational programs. Superintendent Carl Hanson (defendant) explained the purpose of the track system. The tracks are designed to give each student the opportunity to achieve his or her maximum level of academic capability. The theory of the track system is dependent on each student’s maximum level of capability being accurately ascertained. If the track system is not used, then students on each end of the ability spectrum would suffer. The gifted students would be bored, and the mentally disabled students would be constantly left behind. Julius Hobson (plaintiff), a civil-rights activist, brought a claim against Hanson and the district, arguing that the track system discriminated against students on the basis of socioeconomic status and race.

Rule of Law


Holding and Reasoning (Wright, J.)

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