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Suburbs Cleared in Chicago Suit

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Washington--The Justice Department has announced that its lawyers have found no evidence that suburban school districts have contributed to the segregation of students in Chicago's public schools and that, therefore, those districts should not be forced to join in a cross-district desegregation plan with the city.

But, the department added, it will take action against suburbs with respect to discrimination in housing and employment, a move that "should have a salutary effect" on school desegregation in the metropolitan area.

In addition, the department announced that it had filed a subpoena in federal district court ordering the Illinois State Board of Education to turn over a number of documents and lists of documents that may have been stored or destroyed. The documents and lists will help federal lawyers determine whether legal action should be taken against the state for the segregation of schools in the area.

The department's comments were made in a report to U.S. District Judge Milton I. Shadur that was released here on Feb. 25.

Voluntary Plan

Early last January, Judge Shadur approved a voluntary desegregation plan for the city's schools that, among other things, committed the federal department to determine whether the State of Illinois, suburban school districts, and suburban housing and land-use laws contributed to racial segregation in the Chicago metropolitan area's schools. (See Education Week, Jan. 19, 1983.)

In its report to the judge, which marked the first time that the Reagan Administration had spoken at length on the issue of cross-district busing, the department said that although its investigation was intended to address the question of city-suburban segregation of schools, "the investigation process has led inevitably to greater attention to discrimination in housing and employment."

"Inordinate pressure on too few integrated schools" within the city has caused them to become re-segregated and has been "a major factor in 'white flight"' from the district over the years, the department said.

"We think it makes more sense to attack housing and employment discrimination where the cases can be found throughout the area, rather than to place the burden of curing all metropolitan school segregation on a few school systems," it continued. Such actions, it said, will be "complementary to stable school desegregation in Chicago."

The department, in a move that received widespread national attention, recently filed suit against the predominantly white Chicago sub-urb of Cicero alleging discrimination in both housing and employment. The report did not indicate, however, against which other suburbs the department plans to take similar action.

A large portion of the department's report was devoted to a review of previous school-desegregation cases that resulted in the imposition of mandatory cross-district remedies.

"We have made a thorough search for the kinds of violations that have given rise to inter-district school remedies in other cases [and have concluded] that these circumstances do not exist and have not occurred in the Chicago metropolitan area," the department said.

Specifically, the department said there has been "no substantial history" of racially motivated student transfers between the city and the suburbs. Furthermore, it said it found "no evidence that the evolution of the present-day boundaries of the city and the school district have been other than racially neutral in purpose." The department did note that "there is some evidence of inter-district housing violations" in the region and that its investigation "is continuing in this area."

"Until the last decade, virtually all public housing in the metropolitan area was located in Chicago or in suburbs which already had significant minority populations," it said.

The department said it was broadening its investigation of racial segregation in the Chigago area because "focusing on school violations and school remedies for inter-district school segregation is too nar-row an approach" and is occasionally impractical.

"There are many potential causes for the segregated conditions that now exist, and we think that the wise choice [in] setting law-enforcement priorities is to concentrate on areas where practical remedies can be developed," it explained.

Although the department cleared the suburban districts of responsibility for segregation in the city's schools, its investigation of state responsibility has yet to be completed.

In a separate report, the department alleged that the state "has ceased to cooperate with our investigation and has failed to respond to any of our requests for documents and other information since last September."

In particular, the department said the state "has refused to provide us with information on relevant documents which may have been transferred to storage or destroyed." It said that although lawyers for the state said they had given federal lawyers all the information that they could locate, federal investigators have been able to locate some of it in the state's archives.

Because the department's "repeated attempts to obtain even lists or indices of such documents have been ignored," the federal government filed a subpoena requiring the state to turn over the documents at a meeting at the U.S. attorney's office in Chicago on March 15.

A spokesman for the state board of education said last week that the state was not prepared to comment on the department's allegations nor on the serving of the subpoena.

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