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Accord Reached on Desegregation Plan for St. Louis, 22 Suburbs

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All but one of 23 school districts in suburban St. Louis last week came to an agreement with the city's school board on a voluntary cross-district school-desegregation plan that, if approved by a federal judge, could become the largest such effort in the nation.

The plan envisions the transfer to suburban schools of 15,000 black students from the city school district and would commit predominantly white suburban districts in the surrounding county to ensuring that their total enrollments are at least 15-percent minority by 1988, according to Margaret L. Polcyn, a spokesman for the St. Louis public schools.

The city school district, which enrolls more than 58,000 students, is about 80-percent black, and about 31,500 black students in the district continue to attend predominantly single-race schools. The total popu-lation of suburban St. Louis County, from which the city is separate, is approximately 70-percent white.

D. Bruce LaPierre, the Washington University professor of law who has led negotiations between lawyers for the city and the suburban school boards, announced during a hearing on Feb. 22 before U.S. District Judge William L. Hungate that the agreement had been reached.

Judge Hungate had scheduled a hearing on Feb. 14 to determine whether eight of the suburban school districts were liable for segregation in the city school district. The judge agreed to postpone that hearing for a week after Mr. LaPierre told him that lawyers for the parties to the lawsuit had agreed to the settlement in principle but needed additional time to work out its details. (See Education Week, Feb. 23, 1983.)

Judge Hungate ordered the lawyers to return to court on April 11 to present him with the final version of the plan, which could go into effect as early as next September.

A spokesman for the predominantly black Riverview Gardens school district, the only St. Louis County school system that did not endorse the voluntary transfer plan last week, said the district's school board preferred not to comment on its decision.

According to Ms. Polcyn, the main elements of the proposed desegregation plan involve these agreements:

That Judge Hungate would not order mandatory student transfers between city and county schools before a hearing was held to determine whether the suburban districts are liable for segregation in the city schools;

That the 23 county districts would continue to exist as separate, independent entities;

That the cost of the settlement, which has yet to be determined, would be paid for through a combination of state funds and revenues collected as a result of an increase in property-tax rates in the city;

That black students now attending schools in county districts that have a minority enrollment of 50 percent or greater would have the right to transfer to schools in other school districts;

That new magnet elementary and high schools would be established in the county districts. To date, 21 magnet programs have been established in the city school system for desegregation purposes;

That improvements would be made in the quality of education in all schools in both the city and the county that would continue to have predominantly minority enrollments;

That the teaching staffs in both the city and the county would be integrated to reflect the black-to-white ratio of students in the schools; and

That the state, "within the limits of its authority, should encourage construction of housing which shall advance the integration of neighborhoods."

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