Administration's Desegregation Record Attacked
Even as President Reagan moved in an unprecedented way to replace two of its six members, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights last week issued a report sharply critical of the Administration's recent actions in school desegregation and other issues involving minority students.
The report, entitled With All Deliberate Speed: 1954-19??, briefly traces the enforcement of Brown v. Board of Education, the 1954 Supreme Court decision outlawing segregated schools. It concludes that, while substantial progress has been made toward eliminating illegal segregation, federal enforcement efforts slowed considerably beginning with the Nixon Administration and have been inadequate ever since.
In the 1978-79 school year, the report says, 60.2 percent of all minority students in the nation attended schools that were at least 50-percent minority, and 37 percent attended schools that were at least 80-percent minority. Metropolitan desegregation plans, the report maintains, should be developed to reduce the isolation of poor and minority students in the inner-city schools.
Recent actions by the Justice Department are "of serious concern to the Commission," the document says. Arthur S. Flemming, chairman of the commission, further charged in a news conference that the Administration's policies on civil rights in education are contrary to the Constitution.
Justice Department's Decisions
Examples, cited in the report, are the Justice Department's decisions:
To support, before the Supreme Court, a Washington State law banning locally initiated busing for desegregation. The department, in lower-court proceedings, previously opposed the law.
To accept, last August, a desegregation plan for the Chicago schools which one month earlier the department had rejected as incomplete.
To abandon efforts to obtain a court-ordered interdistrict desegregation plan in the Houston area.
To drop its support of a Texas suit claiming that the children of illegal aliens are entitled to a free public education.
Policy of Deep Concern
"Taken together," the commission's report says, "the positions espoused by the Department of Justice in these four cases appear to reflect a policy which cannot help but be of deep concern to those who believe that, as the Supreme Court found in Brown v. Board of Education, segregated educational facilities are inherently unequal."
The report also was critical of Congressional attempts to curb busing for desegregation. During the current session of Congress, such efforts have focused on two approaches: limiting the federal judges' authority to reassign students to schools outside their neighborhoods and forbidding the Justice Department to seek busing as a remedy for segregation.
"Such Congressional proposals, if enacted, would have a detrimental effect on efforts to provide equality of opportunity," the report maintains. "The proposals suggest to the American public that the constitutional issue remains unsettled, although it was clearly decided by the Supreme Court of the United States in 1954 when the Court declared that state-imposed racial segregation deprived public-school students of the equal protection of the laws....
"Further," the report continues, "these efforts present a false picture to the country. School transportation in support of desegregation is presented as a phenomenon that must be stopped because it is ineffective and detrimental to the education of America's schoolchildren.''
Largely on the basis of research by the sociologists Robert L. Crain and Rita E. Mahard, the report claims that significant improvements have been made in the achievement and attitudes of minority students in desegregated schools.
Shortly after holding a news conference to release the desegregation report last Monday, the commission's chairman, Arthur S. Flemming, learned that President Reagan intended to remove him from the post he has held since 1974.
Mr. Reagan is the first President to replace commission members in the absence of resignations.
The President's nominee for the chairmanship is Clarence Pendleton, president of the Urban League of San Diego. Mr. Pendleton is described as a conservative Republican whose views on civil-rights enforcement are consonant with Mr. Reagan's.
No Reaction from Reagan
The President, White House spokesmen said, was not reacting to Mr. Flemming's support of affirmative action, busing for school desegregation, and other traditionally liberal causes. Instead, the spokesmen said, Mr. Reagan was simply exercising his prerogative to name members to the independent, six-member commission, which was established by Congress in 1957 as a fact-finding agency.
Mr. Flemming, who served as secretary of Health, Education and Welfare during the Eisenhower Administration, charged that the President's decision would compromise the commission's independence
Dismissals Not Directly Related
The Reagan Administration also announced plans to replace Commissioner Stephen Horn, president of California State University at Long Beach, with Mary Louise Smith, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee.
One source at the commission said the dismissals did not appear to be connected directly to the school-desegregation report. But, the source said, "There is some feeling that it happened because of discontent with the pro-civil-rights posture of Mr. Flemming."