U.S Will Push Desegregation Suits, But Will Shun Busing
The U.S. Department of Justice has decided to press ahead with three school-desegregation suits filed in the last days of the Carter Administration, but the department intends to stick by the Reagan Administration's policy of seeking remedies other than mandatory busing.
William Bradford Reynolds, assistant attorney general for civil rights, said last week that he had reviewed the three cases charging intentional segregation by public officials--in Lima, Ohio; Charleston, S.C.; and Yonkers, N.Y.--and had concluded that the department should pursue them.
In the Yonkers case, however, the Justice Department has not yet decided whether to pursue related allegations that the city, in selecting sites for low-income housing, intentionally segregated neighborhoods and thus the public schools. The case was the first attempt to sue on grounds of both housing discrimination and illegal school segregation.
"The department is continuing to assess its position as to that part of the case concerning alleged violations of the Fair Housing Act, in light of recent federal-court decisions," Mr. Reynolds said. Federal judges in Ohio and Connecticut have recently rendered differing interpretations of the federal law, which forbids racial discrimination.
In all three schools cases, Mr. Reynolds said, the department will seek out-of-court settlements. "We hope that each of these cases can be resolved short of trial, and, to that end, the attorneys for each of these school districts are being asked to meet in the near future with department lawyers to discuss the possibilities of settlement," he said.
John Wilson, a spokesman for Mr. Reynolds, said he expected the negotiations to begin "very soon."
"The remedy will be worked out in discussions between lawyers, but everyone is aware of this Administration's policy of opposition to mandatory busing," Mr. Wilson said.
The spokesman also indicated that Mr. Reynolds' intention to force improvements in minority schools--a policy announced two weeks ago--probably would figure in the cases.
"When a case is brought to him," Mr. Wilson said, "I'm sure one of the first questions he will ask his lawyers is whether they have dealt with the quality of minority schools."
William L. Taylor, director of Catholic University's Center for National Policy Review and an authority on school desegregation, claimed that Mr. Reynolds' decision to pursue the three cases "means nothing" if the department rules out busing.
"I think his position is outrageous and a violation of his oath of office," said Mr. Taylor.
"When you say you're not going to ask for the remedies that may be necessary to correct the violation," he added, "it means nothing."
In a related matter, Mr. Reynolds this month told a Senate panel that the Justice Department would seek to correct racial imbalances only in individual schools where the imbalances result from intentional segregation by state officials.
This policy is a sharp departure from the district-wide desegregation remedies sought in the past--and sanctioned in 1973 by the Supreme Court--on the basis that state-imposed segregation in one part of a school district indicated that intentional segregation pervaded the entire district and required correction.
In his testimony on an anti-busing bill before the Senate Subcommittee on Separation of Powers, Mr. Reynolds also said that "the department will henceforth, on a finding by a court of de jure [state-imposed] racial segregation, seek a desegregation remedy that emphasizes the following three components, rather than court-ordered busing:
"Removal of all state-enforced barriers to open access to public schools;
"Insurance that all students--white, black, Hispanic, or any other ethnic origin--are provided equal opportunities to obtain an education of comparable quality;
"Eradication to the fullest extent practicable of the remaining vestiges of the prior dual systems."
No single technique may work in all cases, Mr. Reynolds told the Senate panel, but he listed "some approaches that seem to hold promise," including voluntary transfers, magnet schools, enhanced curriculum requirements, faculty incentives, in-service training, school closings and construction, and "modest adjustments" in attendance zones.
Mr. Reynolds said he does not intend to reopen cases where desegregation remedies have proven successful. But, he said, the department "might well not oppose" the reopening of cases where school systems "have been successful in their efforts to dismantle the dual systems of an earlier era," or where demographic changes are causing black students to be bused out of their neighborhoods to mostly black schools.
In his testimony, Mr. Reynolds declined to take a position on the bill under consideration, which would strip the lower federal courts of their authority to order busing for desegregation. The Justice Department has not yet analyzed the constitutional questions involved, he said.