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U.S. Agency Cites Racial Bias in Miami Schools

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Miami--Two years have passed since Miami's Liberty City riots claimed 18 lives in three days of street fighting.

Yet racial discrimination and poverty, to which the 1980 riots were widely attributed, persist in the city, according to a soon-to-be-released report on "the state of civil rights in Miami" by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. And in metropolitan Miami's Dade County public schools--the nation's fourth-largest system, with 225,000 students--the commission found disparities in the quality of instruction, counseling, and preparation for jobs offered to whites and to members of minority groups.

Although the draft report draws no connection between the riots and the problems that the commission found in the schools, it concludes that "remnants" of a segregated school system exist in Dade County and that black students do not have the same opportunities as whites.

"In Dade County, education no longer is perceived as the ultimate equalizer," states the draft report by the commission, an independent federal agency that monitors civil rights. "Despite the Dade County public school system's desegregation efforts, many Dade County schools remain virtually one-race schools, particularly in affluent white neighborhoods and inner-city black neighborhoods."

The court-ordered plan for desegregation in Miami was not as thorough as some of the plans in other school districts across the country. The plan ordered by a federal district judge in Miami in 1970 was based on the pairing and grouping of 27 predominantly black schools and 30 predominantly white schools. The judge said it was impractical to demand cross-county busing for racial balance at all of Dade's 250 schools.

Inner-City Schools Untouched

The judge's plan also left untouched several inner-city schools, which still are virtually all black. This year, the school system's statistics show, five Dade schools are 100 percent black and four are 99 percent black.

The civil-rights commission says the "limited" desegregation plan in Miami has resulted in the deterioration of many inner-city schools. It charges that the system offers unequal vocational training for black and white students, with inadequate facilities in the inner-city schools.

The agency's draft report also maintains that guidance counseling is inadequate and that the school system lacks an effective means of countering the high dropout rate among black students.

And for a school system in a largely Hispanic community, where the ability to speak Spanish is virtually a prerequisite to getting a job, the commission says the Dade schools have "failed to provide most black students with functional language skills."

Calling the commission's report biased and "based on preconceived ideas," Leonard Britton, Dade County's school superintendent, has responded with a report almost as long as the commission's own 26-page critique.

In one instance--the commission's claim that blacks are underrepresented in the school district's administrative ranks--Mr. Britton's response notes that the statistics used by the commission were four years old. In fact, he points out, the percentage of black administrators in Dade schools increased from 13.7 percent in 1978 to 28 percent this year.

Objecting to charges that it has treated children in the inner-city schools differently from suburban students, the administration says that the Dade school system relied on the order of the federal judge to desegregate its schools.

"The U.S. District Court, [as] affirmed by the [U.S. Court of Appeals for the] Fifth Circuit, did not require cross-busing of students," Mr. Britton's response asserts. "There are paired and grouped schools where students are transported if the distance is beyond two miles. ... The U.S. District Court ruled that it was not feasible to desegregate eight predominantly black schools."

Counseling Inadequate

In their point-by-point rebuttal to the commission's criticism, Dade school officials conceded one point: With one guidance counselor for every 450 students in the Dade school system, administrators say, counseling is indeed inadequate for both blacks and whites. Hiring more counselors is a financial problem, administrators say, and they hope to solve it by finding additional money.

The commission's report, which was drawn from testimony at public hearings held in Dade County during December 1980, will be officially released early next month, according to Paul Alexander of the commission's office of the general counsel.

Mr. Alexander said the commission has issued no official comment on the early release of the report's education section. The final report, he added, will also contain sections dealing with employment opportunities, police practices, urban enterprise and business, and health as they relate to Dade County's minority populations.

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