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Philadelphia School Chief Submits Voluntary Desegregation Plan

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Philadelphia--Under the terms of a Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court order, Constance E. Clayton, Philadelphia's superintendent of schools, last week submitted a new desgregation plan for the 202,000-student district to the State Human Relations Commission, the agency with jurisdiction over desegregation in Pennsylvania.

Under Ms. Clayton's plan, the nation's sixth-largest school system would commit itself to:

Desegregating 34 schools and decreasing segregation at nine others over the next three years, primarily through voluntary student transfers.

Providing new curricula on race relations and cultural diversity in 116 schools that would remain racially isolated--more than 90 percent white or minority--under the plan. (There are 276 schools in the city; 54 are already desegregated. A school is considered segregated in Philadelphia when it is 25- to 60-percent white and 40- to 75-percent minority.) Students in the racially isolated schools would also be brought together for field trips and other activities.

Improving the quality of classroom instruction at 73 of the racially isolated schools that have the lowest achievement levels. Ms. Clayton last month announced a $1.7-million program to provide additional resources and staff members to 30 of those 73 schools. (See Education Week, Oct. 5, 1983.)

The human-resources commission had no immediate comment on the plan, but school-district officials are pessimistic about its chances for commission approval.

The final arbiter, however, is Commonwealth Court, where school officials say the plan stands a better chance.

When the commission took the School District of Philadelphia to court several years ago, demanding that it be ordered to implement a mandatory desegregation plan, the Commonwealth Court ruled in favor of the district's voluntary plan.

The court took a somewhat tougher stance in 1980, when the commission once again demanded a mandatory plan, complaining the voluntary plan had proved inadequate. This time, the court said it would order busing, but only if district officials failed to produce by Oct. 4, a new plan that provided a reasonable assurance that it would decrease the number of desegregated schools in the district.

Ms. Clayton says she thinks the plan she has devised with the help of Ralph R. Smith, a paid consultant who is a professor of law at the University of Pennsylvania, fulfills the order.

While the plan is still voluntary, Ms. Clayton points out that it includes other new elements, in addition to educational improvement and cross-cultural education at schools that remain racially isolated, that should make it acceptable to the court.

Among the new initiatives are plans for an intensive student-recruitment campaign, special counseling for parents and students considering a transfer, and expansion of specialized "magnet" programs in the 34 schools targeted for desegregation.

Officials' Choice

The plan sets out a rationale for officials' choice of the 34 schools considered the most likely to be successfully desegregated. In the past, the district selected schools almost at random, officials have said..

First, according to the plan, offi-cials ruled out desegregation at all 116 racially isolated schools, as well as those located in remote sections of the city.

Second, they targeted mostly predominantly white schools because minority students have traditionally shown the most willingness to transfer voluntarily.

Third, according to the plan, officials included for the first time predominantly minority schools, but only those located in neighborhoods with an integrated school-age population that would assure desegregation if all those children attended public schools. By targeting these schools, the district is gambling on its ability to reverse the flight of middle and upper-class students, primarily white students, to private and parochial schools.

In addition, school district officials are hoping the court and the commission will be impressed by the involvement of Ms. Clayton herself.

"The Modified Desegregation Plan was developed by an administration that believes in, values, and plans for the maximum amount of desegregation possible," said Helen Oakes, a school-board member, after the board unanimously adopted the plan last week.

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