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Busing Will Not Help To Desegregate Chicago Schools, Federal Judge Rules

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A federal district judge in Chicago has approved a desegregation plan for that city's school system that will not require mandatory student busing.

The plan, which was ruled constitutional by U.S. District Judge Milton I. Shadur on Jan. 6, is expected to leave about 350 of the city's 597 schools with predominantly minority enrollments.

"Just as school busing is an inflammatory term to the intransigent white parent who does not want his or her child exposed to 'those people,' so the inclusion of mandatory busing in a plan has importance to minority parents as evidence that the plan is really committed to equal and nonsegregated education for their children," Judge Shadur said in his ruling.

"But it would be ironic," he added, "to require token transfers of white students to predominantly-black or all-black schools to serve that purpose, when the use of tokenism in other contexts is properly offensive to every minority group."

The Reagan Administration, which is opposed to mandatory student transportation for desegregation purposes, said the decision was "extremely encouraging."

"The court found the plan to be clearly within the broad range of constitutionally acceptable remedies," said William Bradford Reynolds, the assistant attorney general for civil rights, in a prepared statement. "We remain confident that the proper implementation of this plan, which is based mainly on magnet schools and voluntary transfers, can achieve more lasting desegregation than a mandatory student reassignment plan."

The Administration's acceptance of the plan in February 1982 followed a series of events in which the Justice Department reversed its position in the lawsuit, United States v. Board of Education of the City of Chicago.

In July 1981, the department rejected the school board's proposed voluntary approach to desegregation, in particular questioning the board's definition of a "desegregated" school as one having an enrollment no less than 30 percent minority and no more than 70 percent white.

At that time, the department questioned whether that standard implied that the board would act only to ensure a 30-percent minority enrollment in the city's predominantly white schools.

Department Reverses Itself

But two months later, in supplemental papers filed with the court, the department reversed itself, saying that the school system was headed in the right direction by adopting a voluntary desegregation strategy. The department agreed with the school board's contention that mandatory busing would impede desegregation of the city's schools and would help to erode further the district's white enrollment.

In his opinion, Judge Shadur agreed with the Administration and the school board that it would be impossible to appraise the desegregation plan "without a realization of the demographic facts with which the [school] board must deal."

"Major changes in the schools' (and the city's) racial makeup over more than a decade before 1980 have increased enormously the difficulties of developing an effective desegregation plan. ... It is against that backdrop--against today's demography and problems--that the con-stitutionality of the board's desegregation plan must be assayed," he said.

Twenty years ago, he pointed out, the school system's total enrollment was more than 50-percent white. By 1970, he continued, the district's enrollment had shifted to 35-percent white, 55-percent black, and 10-percent Hispanic. In the current school year, those proportions stood at 16.3-percent, 60.7-percent, and 20.4-percent, respectively.

"It would be tragic if a well-intentioned desegregation plan, modeled along the lines suggested by the plan's critics, were to cause accelerated resegregation--so that the common desegregation goals of the board and its critics were defeated," Judge Shadur said.

"Admittedly, the choice is a delicate one," he continued. "Concerns as to 'white flight' are legitimate, but they cannot be permitted to dictate planning so as to impair constitutional rights. Reasonable people may certainly differ as to the resolution of the value judgments involved here--judgments that do not all point in the same direction. This court cannot say, however, that the course chosen by the board to balance the competing considerations is constitutionally flawed."

Under the terms of the plan, the school board is required:

To desegregate all of the school system's predominantly white schools no later than the beginning of the next school year. Under the definitions approved by the court, that means that no schools in the district can have a white enrollment exceeding 70 percent by that time. Currently, only seven of the district's schools do not meet that standard. Furthermore, the court expects the district "to continue working toward greater minority enrollment" in those schools.

To establish special "quality educational institutions"--magnet schools and scholastic academies--"to maximize the prospect of voluntary student transfers."

By various means, "to maximize the improvement of quality education for" the estimated 345,000 students who will continue to attend predominantly minority schools.

The board also has been ordered to develop a "back-up" desegregation plan that would require mandatory busing if Judge Shadur should decide later that the voluntary plan is not meeting its objectives. The board is required to present Judge Shadur with its first annual review of the the plan in March.

Attorneys for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People--which twice attempted to intervene in the lawsuit but was denied the right--could not be reached for comment last week. The association has contended that voluntary school-desegregation efforts will not work in Chicago and the continued racial isolation envisioned in the plan is unacceptable.

In related developments:

Members of the Philadelphia school board, saying that they were "heartened" by Judge Shadur's decision in the Chicago school-desegregation case, indicated that they were prepared to reverse a decision they made last year to order the merger of predominantly black and white schools.

Last April, in response to a Commonwealth Court order, the board committed itself to a plan that would require extensive busing if a voluntary plan to merge the schools failed by Jan. 15.

The board must take a position on the issue by March 8, when its attorneys are scheduled to appear before Commonwealth Court to show that it is complying with the court's desegregation order.

The Justice Department last week refused to take a position on a desegregation plan that would involve both city and suburban schools in St. Louis.

Earlier this month, U.S. District Judge William Hungate ordered the department to make known its stance as an intervening plaintiff in the case by Jan. 10. Judge Hungate threatened to prevent the department from presenting evidence or cross-examining witnesses at a Feb. 14 hearing on the case if it failed to comply with his order. (See Education Week, Jan. 12, 1983.)

The department, in papers filed with the court before the Jan. 10 deadline, argued only that the federal rules of civil procedure did not require it to take "an adversarial position on the claims or the defenses raised" in the case.

The lawsuit, Liddell v. Board of Education, is to determine whether nine suburban school districts, St. Louis County, and the state of Missouri should be held accountable for segregation in St. Louis's schools.

Late last month, state education officials in Ohio were nearing an agreement with Cleveland school officials whereby a $33-million state loan to the district would be cancelled if the district agreed to pick up the state's 50-percent share of Cleveland's desegregation costs.

School-district officials predicted that such an arrangement could result in a $8-million budget surplus for the district if current spending patterns remain constant.

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