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U.S. Judge Hears Denver Plan To End Compulsory Busing

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Denver--The Denver school board's proposal to end eight years of mandatory busing, formulated in response to a judge's request for a "unitary, non-racial" enrollment policy, is not a desegregation plan, school officials admitted in federal district court last week.

In a "full evidentiary hearing," Denver School Superintendent Joseph Brzeinski told U.S. District Judge Richard P. Matsch that the board's controversial "Total Access Plan" is an educational program that does not even mention school desegregation.

The plan, approved by a bitterly divided school board last December on a 4-to-3 vote, is being offered to Judge Matsch in response to his call for a constitutionally acceptable enrollment plan that would allow him to conclude Denver's precedent-setting, 13-year-old desegregation suit.

The Total Access Plan is an open-enrollment, magnet-school proposal that would end forced busing and allow most of Denver's 60,000 students to attend the school of their choice. Included in the plan are 35 optional programs ranging from traditional basic education to advanced-learning centers.

The plan has generated widespread controversy throughout the city.

After the school board endorsed the proposal, school officials mounted an intensive public-relations campaign to explain the plan to Denver citizens. Teachers were asked to help develop the magnet programs slated for their schools. And three 30-minute prime-time programs favorable to the plan were aired by the local educational-television station, which is licensed to the city school system.

A well-known commercial television anchorman who normally hosts the weekly program, which focuses on city school activities, refused to participate in the three segments on the Total Access Plan. His main concern, he said, was that the opinion of the school-board members who had opposed the plan was not represented during the three shows.

Although the plan has been endorsed by the Denver Board of Realtors, a large number of community groups have opposed it. These include the Denver League of Women Voters, the Denver Community Desegregation Project, three chapters of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Denver Federation of Teachers, and one council of the League of United Latin American Citizens.

The Community Education Council, a group of court-appointed desegregation monitors, called the proposal a "re-segregation" rather than desegregation plan. Teachers at Manual High School agreed with the council and refused to help develop the classical-studies magnet program scheduled for their school.

Precedents Established

Federal involvement in Denver's desegregation dispute began in 1969, when a group of parents filed suit claiming that the local school system was unconstitutionally segregated. Their claims were upheld in a series of federal-court rulings, including an August 1973 decision of the U.S. Supreme Court.

That ruling, in Keyes v. School District No. 1, established two key precedents in desegregation case law. It was the first in which "intentional segregation" was linked to such official actions as the drawing of attendance zones and the selection of school sites, rather than to explicit state laws es-tablishing separate schools for blacks and whites. This principle has since been applied in numerous Northern school-desegregation cases. Furthermore, the Keyes decision established the assumption that intentional segregation in one part of a school district implies illegal segregation throughout the district, thus requiring a districtwide remedy.

After further hearings, the federal district court ordered citywide desegregation, including extensive busing, to begin in the fall of 1974.

About 24,000 students are now bused daily, 15,000 of them for purposes of desegregation. About 40 percent of all students in the system are white, and 60 percent are members of minority groups.

Judge Matsch has set aside two weeks to hear testimony for and against the total-access plan; he expects to rule within 30 days after the hearing concludes.

Whatever plan he endorses--total-access, an alternative developed by an ad hoc committee of the school board, or a continuation of the present busing program--would be implemented next fall.

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