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U.S. To Support Busing Plan for East Baton Rouge

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The Justice Department asked a federal appeals court last week to uphold a lower-court order that will require the widespread busing of students for desegregation purposes in East Baton Rouge Parish, La.

The department, in papers filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, said U.S. District Judge John V. Parker had no choice but to issue his order because a desegregation plan submitted to him in 1980 by the parish's school board "did not promise to dismantle the dual [school] system and lacked the essential underpinnings of success."

"This conclusion in no way detracts from what other courts are now acknowledging about the remedial approach in this area for large urban school systems--the use of educational incentives instead of busing to produce stably desegregated schools is a permissible and desirable option for school authorities," the department said in its brief.

Late last year, the department asked Judge Parker to set aside his busing plan, which went into effect two years ago, and to accept one that would have relied totally on voluntary student transfers. The department advised the judge to give the plan his endorsement "only if there is a demonstrated commitment on the part of the school board to make it work." (See Education Week, Dec. 22, 1982.)

But on Feb. 10, the parish school board voted to reject the department's plan. Local officials said their decision was based, in part, on a study of the plan indicating that student busing would actually have increased in the district during the first five years that the plan was in effect.

East Baton Rouge school-board members reportedly expressed irritation over the department's comments before the appeals panel. One board member is said to have described the comments as "sour grapes" over the political embarrassment caused by the plan's rejection.

Desegregation Activity

In other school-desegregation related activity around the nation:

The Chicago school board recently directed its lawyers to take legal action against the state of Illinois and the federal government in order to force them to pay a higher share of the cost of desegregating the school system.

According to Ben Williams, assistant superintendent of the 435,000-student district, the lawsuit stems from a consent decree that the Justice Department and the school board entered into in September 1980, and that was approved by U.S. District Judge Milton I. Shadur in January.

The agreement, which created a voluntary desegregation plan for the district, commits the department "to bring about a coordinated administration of federal programs in Chicago to help create and maintain stably integrated schools."

Mr. Williams said the lawsuit will allege that the federal government has not provided adequate amounts of money for its share of the desegregation plan.

"The federal government said that they would make every good-faith effort to fund desegregation in Chicago, and they have not done that," he said.

Although the state was not a party to the consent decree, the board plans to argue "that the state has a responsibility to contribute to this effort," Mr. Williams added.

A federal district judge ruled earlier this month that the Little Rock, Ark., school board cannot sue the state of Arkansas in its effort to establish a plan for exchanging and transfering students with two neighboring suburban school districts.

Although U.S. District Judge Henry Woods ruled that the state had no part in the complaints filed by the city school district, he left open the remainder of the district's lawsuit against the Pulaski County Special School District and the North Little Rock School District.

At a hearing earlier this month, U.S. District Judge Thomas A. Wiseman Jr. ordered the Nashville Metropolitan Board of Education to continue working with the plaintiffs in the district's 28-year-old lawsuit in order to reach a compromise on the details of a federal appeals court's desegregation order.

Settlement Approved

Late last month, the school board approved a settlement with a group of black parents that promises to keep school enrollments in the district within a 15-percent variation from the city's black-white population ratio.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court, without comment and against the advice of the Justice Department, declined to consider the school board's appeal of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit's ruling requiring the expansion of student busing in the district.

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