District News Roundup
U.S. District Judge Earl R. Larsen last week dismissed a 12-year-old school-desegregation lawsuit against the Minneapolis Public Schools and shifted oversight responsibilities for the school district's integration plan to the state.
The district's plan, which involves the busing of approximately two-thirds of the system's 38,000 students, was approved by Judge Larsen in June 1982. At that time, the district's officials asked the judge to remove himself from jurisdiction over the plan, but he decided instead to continue monitoring their efforts for at least one year.
"This is something that we have wanted for a long time," said Wil-liam C. Phillips, deputy superintendent of the district. "The news we have indicates that Judge Larsen is convinced that the school board, the superintendent, and the community are all committed to desegregation."
The major advantage will be psychological, added the district's lawyer, John J. O'Donnell, since the system has been operating under the state's desegregation guidelines for a year.
"We're able to say we have desegregated, it is a unitary district, and we have accomplished our task," he explained. "Second, under court order, if we wanted to make major organizational changes, we had to get court approval. It took away from the authority of the board."
In dismissing the lawsuit, Judge Larsen turned down a motion filed by the plaintiffs in the case, Booker v. Special School District #1, seeking significant modifications in the district's plan. The plaintiffs argued that several aspects of the plan have placed an unfair burden for desegregation on minority students.
Reacting to criticism of an opera staged by Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, the Anne Arundel County (Md.) Board of Education recently voted to extend its policy on the review of curriculum materials to plays performed in schools for student audiences.
The school board's action was in response to a production of "The Medium," an opera about a drunken spiritualist who claims to communicate with the dead, according to Edward J. Anderson, school superintendent. The opera itself was considered unobjectionable, he said, but there was some concern over the way it was handled.
In the future, according to Mr. Anderson, proposed theatrical productions will be submitted to the curriculum-review committee for approval. That committee, which includes parents, teachers, students, and administrators, currently screens instructional materials.
Mr. Anderson said he is opposed to censorship in the schools but added that the school board's action appropriately clarifies the school system's policy by including plays.
Legal fees in at least three Texas school districts amounted to more than $100,000 in one year, according to a survey conducted by The Dallas Morning News, which attributed the expense to "a greater awareness of individual rights and an increasing willingness by students and personnel to sue."
In its survey of 14 suburban districts, the newspaper found that in four years, one school district had attorney's fees totaling $408,000. During those years, the district had two lawsuits in federal court.
The Irving Unified School District, which was named in the Tatro v. State of Texas case involving the federal law for the education of handicapped children, spent $349,500 in legal fees during the past four years.
A third district with about 4,400 students paid out $244,000 during the same period. A major portion of that money was reportedly spent on one case in federal court.
Those districts with relatively low legal costs pointed to the "careful" review and adoption of policies designed to keep them out of court.
School officials in University City, Mo., recently agreed to approve a landmark voluntary school-desegregation plan for metropolitan St. Louis.
A new provision that will allow white University City students to attend special "magnet" schools that will be established within the predominantly black district convinced the officials to reverse their decision in April to reject the pact.
The agreement had been approved by the city school district and the 22 other suburban school districts located in St. Louis County. U.S. District Judge William L. Hungate, who has been overseeing the desegregation of the city's schools, recently completed a series of hearings on the agreement and is expected to issue a ruling on it soon.
In another school-desegregation case, the state of Tennessee recently indicated that it might cut general funding for school districts if a federal court orders it to pay $95 million this year to offset the cost of the Nashville desegregation program.
Late last month, the Nashville school board filed papers with U.S. District Judge Thomas A. Wiseman Jr. arguing that the state should help pay for the desegregation plan. In a recent interview, State Attorney General William Leach said that if Judge Wiseman approves the motion, the state may be forced to cut aid payments to other districts.
The El Rancho (Calif.) Unified School District has lost its suit to win more than $11 million in damages for a 19-day teachers strike.
Last month, the California Supreme Court upheld the dismissal of the suit by a lower-court judge, who ruled that the Public Employees Relations Board, not the courts, had jurisdiction over the issue. The district had argued that the 1976 strike was illegal and filed suit against the local affiliate of the California Teachers Association.
Although the state Court of Appeals found in favor of the school district, that decision was overturned by the supreme court.
Carl Fiorita, El Rancho's director of personnel, said the district has not decided if it will take the issue to the Public Employees Relations Board.