The school board appealed McMillan’s decision to implement the desegregation plan in 1970. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit upheld part of McMillan’s decision, to desegregate junior high and high schools, but disagreed with his order that elementary schools should also be desegregated. Both the school board and the plaintiffs of the case appealed this decision to the Supreme Court. When the Court agreed to hear the case, it took on a national significance. Whatever the Supreme Court decided in Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg would affect public schools across the country.
On April 20, 1971, the Supreme Court ruled that rearranging school attendance zones and busing students were acceptable ways to achieve school desegregation, with some limits. The Court felt that students should not be bused when the time it took to get to school threatened their health or education. District judges were given discretion in deciding how much busing would take place in a school district. This decision affirmed Judge McMillan’s 1969 decision, and gave power to lower-court judges in overseeing school desegregation cases. By the beginning of the next school year, forty judges across the country had ordered school desegregation plans.