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Court Approves All-Black Schools in Little Rock

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The school district of Little Rock has received a federal appellate court's permission to proceed this fall with a student-assignment plan that will leave about 1,500 black children in segregated neighborhood schools.

Last Monday, just two weeks before the scheduled opening of school, the U.S Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit in St. Louis denied the black plaintiffs' request to halt the new plan.

The school district, according to officials, was under no court-imposed obligation to alter its student-assignment patterns this year, but believed some adjustments were needed because of the growing proportion of minority-group students. The changes will actually reduce the number of black children in segregated schools, said Julia McGehee, a spokesman for the district.

John Walker, the lawyer for the plaintiffs in the 26-year-old case (Clark v. Board of Education), announced that he does not plan to appeal the circuit court's decision.

In the past 10 years, Ms. McGehee said, owing largely to demographic shifts and a low birthrate among whites, the racial composition of the 20,000-student district has changed from about two-thirds white to about two-thirds black. The concentration of black children in the elementary grades is even higher, she said.

The new plan, and the appeals court's decision, rested on the definition of "segregat-ed." Seven of the city's elementary schools would have been over 80 percent black if no adjustments were made, Ms. McGehee said. A study of the district by a team of desegregation analysts from the federally supported technical-assistance center at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Tex., concluded that desegregation is "not effective" when more than 80 percent of the students in a school are of the same race, she said.

Given the high proportion of minority students in the elementary schools, school officials reasoned, it would be better to have 1,500 of them in schools that are over 90-percent black than to have roughly twice that number in schools that are over 80 percent black. The remaining elementa-ry\school pupils will be in schools that are at least 20-percent white.

A "traditional" magnet elementary school will open this fall as part of the overall plan.

"[The new plan] reduces busing overall, it rewards people who live in integrated neighborhoods [by exempting them from busing], and it cuts some of the busing of black kids who go across town to a school that's 84-percent black," Ms. McGehee said. "Either way, we were resegregating. It was a matter of the extent."

In the meantime, the board is pursuing the possibility of an interdistrict desegregation plan involving the adjacent Pulaski County district, which is predominantly white. A law firm hired to research the question for the Little Rock board is scheduled to issue its report within a few weeks, Ms. McGehee said.

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