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St. Louis, Suburbs Await Approval Of 24 Districts' Desegregation Pact

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All but one of 23 suburban St. Louis school boards last week endorsed an agreement that, if approved by a federal district judge, would set in motion the nation's largest voluntary school-desegregation effort to date.

Area school officials said last week that it was unclear how the University City school board's rejection of the agreement would affect the outcome of the voluntary settlement.

Last Wednesday, U.S. District Judge William L. Hungate met privately with the district's lawyer and with two other lawyers who represent districts that approved the agreement only conditionally.

Liable for Segregation

Late last month, Judge Hungate issued an order indicating that on April 11 he would hold a trial to determine whether suburban districts that refused to go along with the agreement were liable for segregation in the the city's schools. (See Education Week, April 6, 1983.) Most observers expected the judge to announce by the end of the week whether he would go ahead with his plans to hold the hearing, and if so, whether it would take place as originally scheduled.

At the same time, Judge Hungate was expected to rule on the acceptability of the voluntary plan. On March 30, he told lawyers for the city school board, the suburban boards, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People that he would complete his review of the 70-page document and its 270-page appendix within 10 days.

The 11,000-student University City district, which is 77-percent black and shares a border with St. Louis, rejected the pact because its school board "could find nothing in it that would help improve our racial mix," explained Rosie Doughty, the district's superintendent.

"Since University City is similar to the city district in terms of its racial makeup, our board was interested in incentives to improve the quality of education and the improvement of facilities here," Ms. Doughty said.

"There's nothing like that for us in the plan."

Spokesmen for the predominantly white Rockwood and Mehlville school districts could not be reached for comment on their school boards' decisions to approve the plan "with reservations."

The plan approved by the remaining suburban districts calls for the transfer of at least 15,000 black students from the city to the suburbs by 1985.

At present, about 80 percent of the city school district's 85,000 students are black and about 31,000 of them continue to attend predominantly single-race schools.

The plan would also require suburban districts to increase their black enrollments within the next two years to between 15 and 25 percent of their total enrollment. It also calls for the creation of several new "magnet" schools in both the city and the suburbs, the integration of teaching staffs, and an end to the lawsuit that precipitated the plan's creation, Lidell v. Board of Education of the City of St. Louis.

In recent developments in other desegregation cases:

A federal appeals court late last month upheld the constitutionality of a school-desegregation plan in Little Rock, Ark., that would result in the creation of four elementary schools that are almost entirely black.

The creation of the single-race schools "in and of itself is not a constitutional violation," the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit said on March 31 in its opinion in the 27-year-old case, Clark v. Board of Education.

The court added, however, that its holding "[emphasizes] the importance of the school board's commitment to ensuring that equal educational opportunity is provided to all students in the Little Rock school system."

According to Julia McGehee, a spokesman for the school district, the lawsuit went back to court more than a year ago when a group of black taxpayers objected to a proposed revision of the district's existing student-assignment plan.

Ms. McGehee said the revisions were needed because over the past 10 years the racial composition of the district has shifted from being about 65-percent white to almost 65-percent black.

Without the revisions, she said, approximately 3,000 of the district's black students would have had to attend schools that were more than 80-percent black. With the changes, only 1,500 black students attend schools that are more than 90-percent black.

Settlement Approved

The Nashville school board has approved a settlement with a group of black parents to comply with a federal court order that school enrollments in the district stay within a 15-percent variation from the city's black-white population ratio.

According to the school board's lawyer, E.T. Carothers, the negotiated settlement marked the first time that the district and the plaintiffs in the 28-year-old school-desegregation lawsuit, Metropolitan County Board of Education v. Kelly, have worked together to solve their differences.

Mr. Carothers also said that its approval marked the first "major" action taken by the region's first elected school board, whose members took office last September. Prior to that time, school-board members were appointed by the city's mayor and confirmed by its city council.

Last January, the U.S. Supreme Court, without comment, declined to consider the school board's appeal of a federal-appeals-court ruling that required the expansion of student busing for desegregation purposes. (See Education Week, Feb. 2, 1983.)

The ruling last July by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit overturned an earlier ruling by U.S. District Judge Thomas A. Wiseman Jr. that would have exempted 1st through 4th graders from the district's busing plan.

Judge Wiseman reassumed jurisdiction over the case after the Supreme Court refused to hear it.

Earlier this year, Judge Wiseman ordered the school board and the plaintiffs to come to an agreement that would satisfy the circuit court's order.

Enrollments Would Vary

Under the negotiated plan, enrollments in the city's 122 schools would vary from 18-percent to 48-percent black, according to Mr. Carothers. The board was scheduled to present the new plan to the judge on April 7, he added.

The Justice Department offered only qualified support last week for the Norfolk, Va., school board's attempt to win a federal district judge's approval of a plan that would end the busing for desegregation purposes of elementary-school students in the district.

In papers filed in U.S. District Court in Norfolk, William Bradford Reynolds, assistant attorney general for civil rights, argued that the board does not have to seek the court's approval if it wants to revise its current student-desegregation plan.

The Norfolk board recently filed a motion before U.S. District Judge John MacKenzie asking that he "reopen" the 1956 lawsuit, Beckett v. Norfolk School Board, which was closed in 1975 when the district was declared "unitary." In a procedural move, it also filed a new lawsuit asking the judge to declare the proposed neighborhood-school plan constitutional. (See Education Week, April 6, 1983.)

"The 1975 dismissal of this case returned the operational control of the school system to the Norfolk Board as completely as the control exercised by any other school district not subject to a desegregation court order," Mr. Reynolds said. "The board is plainly not required to seek prior judicial approval before its plan can be implemented."

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