Task Force Adds New Issues to Conflict Over Desegregation in Boston Schools
A task force of school and community representatives has developed a position paper recommending that the Boston school system sharply curtail court-ordered busing of students, create new school attendance zones, and eliminate a number of the city's magnet schools.
Under the task force's student-assignment plan, the racial composition of school-attendance districts would be allowed to vary substantially and to deviate from the guidelines established by the federal judge whose orders now govern the system. About 30 percent of the city's public-school students are white, and about 70 percent are members of a minority group.
About 35,000 of the Boston school system's 57,000 students students are bused to schools throughout the city. The system now has 23 magnet schools at the elementary, middle, and high-school levels.
The recommendations are outlined in a draft report prepared by the Educational Planning Group (epg), a 25-member panel that was convened in July 1982 by Jean Sullivan McKeigue, a member of the Boston School Committee. The group includes a cross-section of the city's civic and educational groups as well as school-department personnel.
The group was formed in anticipation of a phased withdrawal of U.S. District Judge W. Arthur Garrity Jr.'s personal supervision of the city schools' desegregation process. A partial withdrawal took effect on Jan. 3, 1983, with his announcement of orders establishing a two-year transitional period during which the Massachusetts Board of Education would continue to monitor the city schools. (See Education Week, Jan. 12, 1983.)
Although Judge Garrity ended his personal supervision of the Boston system, he left intact an estimated 400 remedial orders issued throughout the 10-year-old case, Morgan v. McDonough. Any departure from those remedial orders, according to the terms of Judge Garrity's withdrawal statement, would require the approval of the court, which has been involved in the case since 1972, when a group of black parents charged the school committee and the state board with denying equal educational opportunities to minority children.
In addition to the court's approval, the epg's recommendations will also require the approval of the school committee, the state board, and the black plaintiffs in the case. However, the representatives for the black plaintiffs and the black-educators' association, and the two black members of the school committee have all boycotted the planning group.
John D. O'Bryant, one of the two black members of the school committee, said last week that he has opposed the epg's efforts because he believed "it was inappropriate" for the school committee, as defendants in the case, "to tell the court what to do." He said that he, the black plaintiffs, and the Black Educators Alliance all "withdrew because of questions on the credibility of the process."
"Now, they've come up with recommendations that will severely impact on desegregation," Mr. O'Bryant said. "My sense is, the plaintiffs are going to go directly to the judge on this."
The recommendations of the planning group, according to its preliminary draft report, are designed to improve on the present approach to student assignments, which now does not permit parents to choose the school their child attends.
"The school system has realized a number of accomplishments during this period of desegregation, especially with regard to greater equality of opportunity," the epg draft report notes. "At the same time, there has been significant dissatisfaction with the lack of uniform quality and the lack of stability in the education which children were receiving."
As a means of correcting those problems, the epg has outlined four options for student assignments based on a cluster concept in which one or two elementary schools would be paired with a middle school. Each cluster would feed students to nearby high schools.
Under one option, the cluster schools would be allowed to deviate from the present racial-balance guidelines. For example, the report explained, a school-attendance district with a 30-percent enrollment rate for white students would be permitted to deviate from that in the cluster schools by between 15 percent and 45 percent.
The epg report also recommends that the school system operate only a few citywide magnet schools and that most of the magnet schools be maintained at the high-school level.
"We believe the principle underlying the magnet school: that some schools can devel-op sufficiently attractive programs to achieve voluntary desegregation, has been demonstrated beyond dispute," the epg report contends. "It is therefore a good time to incorporate that principle more broadly into the mainstream of the school system, rather than continuing to operate the magnet schools as a parallel system."
The epg report, which is still undergoing revisions, will be submitted to the school committee for further discussion and possible approval.
In an interview last week, Superintendent of Schools Robert R. Spillane applauded the efforts of the planning group and said that he is "pleased with the suggestions of what the system might look like."
Mr. Spillane said the criticism of the plan is leveled more at the process of developing the recommendations than at the recommendations themselves.
"But you just can't stand on the sidelines and criticize," Mr. Spillane added, referring to those who withdrew from the planning group's efforts. He said it is understandable that "there are those who feel we should increase the number of school districts so that there's more grass-roots involvement."
But, according to Mr. Spillane, that is "one of the issues to be put out to the public" for discussion.
"The concern is that the judge has a student-assignment plan, and that plan just isn't working," Mr. Spillane asserted. The epg, he said, has made "some very positive general statements on directions" for the school system. "The draft report forces everyone to begin discussing the issues; that's its value," he said.