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Settlement Ends 20-Year-Old Desegregation Suit in San Fransisco

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A 20-year-old legal battle over school desegregation in San Francisco was settled late last month when parties to the lawsuit agreed on a desegregation plan that will not require additional mandatory student busing.

Under the terms of the consent decree, San Francisco school officials by next fall must ensure that no single racial group constitutes more than 45 percent of any school's total enrollment. The district will be allowed to use any means that it sees fit to achieve that goal.

Currently, between 5,000 and 6,000 students in the 60,000-student school district are bused to schools outside their neighborhoods under the vestiges of a 1971 school-desegregation court order that was nullified in 1978. A spokesman for the school district said last week that approximately the same number of students would continue to be bused for desegregation purposes under the new plan.

Four schools located in the city's predominantly black Bayview-Hunters Point area were exempted from immediate compliance with the consent decree, which was signed on Dec. 30 under the supervision of U.S. District Judge William Orrick.

Under the agreement, the school district will make major improvements in the four schools--improvements that are designed to entice nonblack parents to enroll their children in them. Those schools will not have to meet the new racial-enrollment goals until the begining of the 1985-86 school year, according to Fred C. Leonard, the school district's assistant superintendent for instructional support services.

The Reagan Administration, which did not intervene in the San Francisco case, has consistently advocated the abandonment of mandatory student busing and the adoption of voluntary measures as a means of achieving school desegregation.

Methods Not Specified

According to Barbara L. Cohen, special assistant to Superintendent Robert F. Alioto, the consent decree does not specify what methods the school district must use to desegregate the district's racially imbalanced schools, with the exception of those in the Bayview-Hunters Point area.

"Inasmuch as [it] doesn't tell us precisely how we are to go about doing this, one can safely argue that it doesn't call for additional mandatory student busing," she said.

Therefore, Ms. Cohen continued, the school district has no plans to expand its 11-year-old student-busing scheme. "We don't want to create an uproar," she said. "We feel that we have a great settlement. The number of children currently riding buses to school more or less will equal the number riding buses next year."

Currently, 24 of the district's 150 schools have enrollments that do not meet the racial standards set under the consent decree, Mr. Leonard said. The four schools in the Bayview-Hunters Point area, for example, have enrollments that range from 60 percent to 83 percent black.

In the 1980-81 school year, 26 percent of the school district's students were black, according to a study conducted in 1981 by researchers from Vanderbilt University's Education Policy Development Center for Desegregation. Approximately 16 percent were Hispanic, 17 percent were white, and 39 percent were Asian.

Eva J. Paterson, one of the lawyers for the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, San Francisco naacp, et al. v. San Francisco Unified School District, et al., said her clients "are basically satisfied" with the terms of the decree.

"It was a negotiated settlement, and when you negotiate you have to compromise," Ms. Paterson said. "All the parties involved feel pretty satisfied. Still, the proof is in the pudding. How they plan to comply with the [settlement] remains to be seen."

Judge Orrick has told the school district that by April it must present him with an outline explaining how it intends to meet the consent decree's enrollment standards.

Ms. Cohen said the standards would be met primarily by redrawing attendance boundary lines in the district and by shifting certain "special programs" from their current locations to new schools.

"For example, we might shift some of our bilingual-education programs, which are primarily for Hispanic students, to new schools where we need to increase the number of Hispanic students," she explained. "Or we may move some of our extended-day programs, which are for the children of working parents, into areas where we think they can help us achieve desegregation."

'Laboratory School'

Desegregation in the Bayview-Hunters Point area would be fostered by converting an existing elementary school into a "laboratory school" affiliated with a nearby university; by converting another elementary school into a "traditional academic" middle school; by featuring computer-assisted instruction in a third elementary school; and by converting a middle school into a "traditional" high school, she added.

The total cost of the desegregation plan is expected to reach between $3 million and $6 million and would be paid for by the state under the terms of the agreement.

The consent decree also calls for the expansion of the school district's inservice program for teachers, requires the school district to work "aggressively" with the city housing department to help break down racial housing patterns in the Bayview-Hunters Point area, and calls on the state to warn school districts surrounding San Francisco to refrain from enrolling students "whose transfer adversely affects desegregation."

In addition, the settlement addresses the problem of students living on a nearby military base who have been riding military buses free of charge to private schools in San Francisco, according to Ms. Cohen.

Last November, the school district alleged that officials at The Presidio of San Francisco Army installation were illegally allowing more than 200 elementary-school students to ride military buses to private schools so their parents could avoid sending them to the city's schools. (See Education Week, Nov. 3, 1982).

Consent Decree

The consent decree says that continuation of such transportation "undermines the ability" of the school district to desegregate its schools. It calls upon the installation's officers to stop the busing and invites the parties to the lawsuit to "seek appropriate assistance from the court" if the busing is not discontinued, Ms. Cohen said.

While legal activity regarding school desegregation appeared to be diminishing in San Francisco, just the opposite was taking place in St. Louis.

A federal district judge there, saying that "the hottest place in hell" is reserved for those who shy away from controversy, on Dec. 30 ordered the Justice Department to make public its stance in that city's school-desegregation case before the case goes to trial on Feb. 14.

"Centuries ago, Dante reminded us that the hottest place in hell is reserved for those who, in times of controversy, refuse to take a position," said U.S. District Judge William H. Hungate in his order.

John V. Wilson, a spokesman for the department, said last week that the office of the assistant attorney general for civil rights would file its brief in the case, Liddell v. Board of Education, by Jan. 7.

Judge Hungate had threatened to prevent federal attorneys from presenting evidence or cross examining witnesses during the trial if the department failed to comply with his order.

No Publicity

The department had previously announced that it did not want to publicize its stance on the case until after the trial was completed. Judge Hungate, however, said that it would be unfair for him to give the department "the luxury of taking no position in a civil-rights case to which it is a party."

The Feb. 14 trial has been set to determine whether nine suburban St. Louis school districts, St. Louis County, and the state of Missouri should be held liable for racial segregation in the city's public schools.

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