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In our official English vocabulary book I found two sentences with identical semantics but different prepositions used for school. I am curious whether both sentences are syntactically correct or if there's a subtle difference I missed:

In 1954, the Supreme Court decided that racial segregation in schools was against the constitution.

and

The US Supreme Court ruled that racial segregation at schools was unconstitutional.

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The definitions of at and in give us the answer: both can be used, but they have slightly different interpretations. At is used to indicate in the vicinity of, while in is used like inside. This is the only difference, and honestly, it doesn't really apply all the time. For example, saying I am at school and I am in school convey the same idea, just with slightly different interpretations.

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    I think they convey completely different ideas. "I am at school" conveys the idea that you are physically located at a school. "I am in school" conveys the idea that you are presently enrolled in a school but may or may not be physically there right now. You might hear someone say "I'm still in school" at a restaurant, but you're very unlikely to hear them say "I'm still at school" unless they were lying on a phone or the restaurant was on the school grounds. Dec 14, 2011 at 7:12
  • Thanks, this brings more clarification to the situation. In this case I think that both prepositions can be used substitutively and convey the same idea, too.
    – aydinch
    Dec 14, 2011 at 10:57
  • I agree, they can convey the same idea, but they also each have specialized uses that are not fully shared with the other. Dec 14, 2011 at 11:40
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    @David Schwartz: There may be a US/UK split on this one. In a British McDonalds I'd expect to hear "I'm still at school". Now I come to think about it, if I heard "in school" there I'd expect it to be in an American or Canadian accent. Dec 14, 2011 at 13:14
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I would think segregation would be allowed for things like Sports or extra curricular activities IF one used in school. While use of AT school would prohibit it. The SPIRIT in my opinion, is clearly it's disallowed at any school building, function, or activity; regardless of location; so either would be useful if following spirit.

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