1950s 1954 | U.S. Supreme Court's Brown v. Board of Education decision outlaws segregated schools. 1960s 1963 | Committee appointed to...

Share story


1954 | U.S. Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision outlaws segregated schools.


1963 | Committee appointed to come up with solution to “gross racial imbalance” in certain schools in the Central Area. Recommends program of open enrollment.

1963 | Start of voluntary-transfer program in Seattle. At peak in 1969-70, 2,604 students participated, of whom 2,200 were black.


1972-77 | Various attempts to promote voluntary integration, including magnet programs in 27 schools, and adding a strong science program and new facilities to Garfield High. Some mandatory assignments in middle school. Still, by district’s definition, 26 schools in 1977 remain “racially imbalanced.”

Spring 1977 | The NAACP files a complaint with Office of Civil Rights over racial segregation in Seattle schools. The American Civil Liberties Union and the Church Council of Greater Seattle also threaten to go to court.

December 1977 | School Board adopts the Seattle Plan, making Seattle the first major city to adopt a comprehensive desegregation plan without a court order.

Fall 1978 | The Seattle Plan goes into effect, putting 12,000 students on buses.


Fall 1980 | Three years after busing went into effect, Cleveland High is the only “racially imbalanced” school, and it’s not far out of balance.

February 1981 | Declining enrollment leads the School Board to approve closure of 10 elementary schools, two middle schools and two high schools.

1989-90 | District scales back mandatory busing. Starts system called “controlled choice.” 7,400 students receive mandatory assignments.


1997-98 | Superintendent John Stanford ends busing for desegregation. District adopts policy called the “racial tiebreaker.” Policy allows students to get preference for popular high schools if they would improve the racial balance at those schools.


2000 | Parents Involved in Community Schools files suit over racial tiebreaker. At the time, the policy affected about 300 high-school students.

2001-02 | Due to ongoing court case, district stops using racial tiebreaker in assigning students to schools.

2007 | U.S. Supreme Court outlaws use of racial tiebreaker. School Board adopts new framework for school assignment, with a focus on placing more students in neighborhood schools.

Sources: “The History of Desegregation in Seattle Public Schools, 1954-81”; Seattle Public Schools; Seattle Times archives

Note: Numbers may not add up precisely due to rounding