When the Supreme Court announced in its unanimous Brown v. Board of Education decision (1954) that the doctrine of "separate but equal" had no place in public education, Prince George's County public schools operated under a dual system that was in keeping with an 1872 Maryland law requiring the separate education of black and white children. The system in Prince George's County was completely segregated. Students attended segregated schools. The buses were also segregated, even though buses carrying black students and buses carrying white students often traveled over the same roads. Teachers were assigned to schools on a segregated basis, teaching only students of their own race and almost always reporting to supervisors of their own race, although some black teachers reported to white supervisors. If the superintendent had to address all the teachers in the system, he did so in separate meetings for black and white teachers.
After the Supreme Court made its decision in Brown, the Maryland state school board released a statement confirming that it would stand by the decision but noting that it would need an "effective date" to be set by the tribunal before it created and implemented a plan for integration. The Prince George's County superintendent, William Schmidt, issued a statement a few days later declaring that he expected "to operate [the Prince George's County] school system during the 1954-55 term on the same basis that the schools have been operated during the 1953-54 term." Another year would pass before the Supreme Court required school systems to integrate "with all deliberate speed." During that year, Prince George's County did little to prepare or implement a plan for desegregation, aside from appointing 17 local whites and 5 local blacks to the "Fact-Finding Committee to Study the Problems of Desegregation in Prince George's County." On July 21, 1955, the committee submitted the findings of its study to the county board of education. A major section of the report was devoted to showing the possible results of assigning students to schools "without regard to race." These results were based on "pupil assignments' that were only nominally nondiscriminatory" but they still showed that 47 of the 106 schools slated to operate in 1955-1956 could be desegregated and that this desegregation would actually require more teachers, stamping out the fear that some teachers might have to be fired if the dual school system was consolidated into a unitary system. The committee did not outline a specific desegregation plan; however, it did suggest that "insofar as it is administratively and economically possible, pupils irrespective of race, should be allowed to attend the school closest to their homes" and that "the present policy of fixed school boundaries can be continued, but on an integrated basis. . . ." The committee also advised the board of education to take desegregation into account when building new schools and to desegregate teachers and staff along with students.
For the 1955-1956 school year, the board decided to adopt a "freedom of choice" plan similar to those adopted by many other Southern and border states. With a few relatively insignificant changes, the Prince George's County school system operated under this plan from the 1955-1956 school year to the 1964-1965 school year. The freedom of choice plan automatically registered students in the school that they would have attended under the old system, but they could choose to attend the school of their choice, provided that their parents specifically request a transfer. Allowing students to attend the school of their choice could have produced a fair amount of desegregation on its own. The stipulation that parents specifically request a transfer, however, meant that blacks would be placed in black schools and whites would be placed in white schools unless the parents demanded otherwise, therefore placing the burden of