Illinois Board Members Assail Integration Policy
Springfield, Ill.--The Justice Department's new policies on school desegregation are under attack by members of the Illinois State Board of Education.
The five-member administration committee of the board has adopted a resolution--scheduled to be considered by the full board next month--declaring that the body "is disappointed and gravely concerned" by the remarks made by William Bradford Reynolds, assistant attorney general for civil rights, to a workshop of the Education Commission of the States (ecs) in Chicago this fall.
In the resolution, the committee "strongly recommends that the Administration reconsider its legal and constitutional duty to require equal access to education for the children of this country."
Mr. Reynolds told the workshop of the ecs's National Project on Desegregation Strategies that "this Administration will not tolerate state-imposed segregation of our nation's public schools on account of race, color, or ethnic origin."
But he also told the educators that 10 years of experience with mandatory busing as a remedy for segregation indicates "it generally has not fared well."
Mr. Reynolds said busing has prompted flight from urban school systems that "has eroded the tax base of many cities, which has in turn contributed to the growing inability of many school systems to provide high-quality education to their students, whether black or white." He also said there is "growing empirical evidence that racially balanced public schools have failed to improve the educational achievement of transported students."
To some members of the Illinois board, Mr. Reynolds's remarks signal a major retreat from a longstanding federal commitment to school desegregation.
"The speech was an indication that this Administration is not going to take the same strong or vigorous role in the area of equal educational opportunity for all minority groups that all prior Administrations since Brown v. Board of Education have taken," said Peter Monahan, a Chicago lawyer and member of the board.
Reaffirming the Commitment
Mr. Monahan noted that the Illinois board has a long record of enforcing strict state policies on school desegregation. The resolution, which he co-sponsored, would be a reaffirmation of that commitment, he added.
The state board has been under political and legal attack for several years over its uncompromising position on the issue. There have been numerous attempts in the General Assembly to return state administration of education to an elected official instead of the appointed board, which has governed the state's schools since 1975.
And the Illinois board's own guidelines on desegregation, which require that each school reflect the racial makeup of the school district to within 15 percent, have been challenged in the state courts. Lower courts have found the rules invalid; the issue is pending before the state Supreme Court.
"The State Board of Education is one of the foremost advocates of minority rights of any state board in the country," Mr. Monahan said. ''I'm proud of that fact."
"I wouldn't want the clock turned back," he said. "That would be a terrible tragedy. I'm concerned this is a sign of the times and a very negative sign."
Other board members have indicated they are sympathetic to the cause spearheaded by Mr. Monahan and by Helen Fredrick, a black member of the board. But they also questioned the effectiveness of using a resolution to try to alter national policy.
Mr. Monahan defended the approach, saying, "The resolution is an expression of opinion by the state board, and for whatever weight and influence that expression carries, there is a feeling by some members that this will be a good idea."