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Court Upholds Interdistrict Busing Plan

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Washington--The U.S. Supreme Court last week let stand lower-court rulings requiring the predominantly white Coloma, Mich., public schools to participate in an interdistrict desegregation plan with predominantly black schools in nearby Benton Harbor.

Last January, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit upheld, in part, a district judge's earlier ruling that required the Coloma schools to "work cooperatively" with the Benton Harbor schools. The Coloma district was found liable for segregation in Benton Harbor because it allowed approximately 150 white students to transfer from the city into its schools. (See Education Week, Feb. 2, 1983.)

In May 1981, when the federal district court entered its cross-district integration plan, the Benton Harbor schools had an enrollment of 9,100 students, of whom 77 percent were black. In the same year, under 1 percent of Coloma's 2,433 students were black.

The court order also affected the predominantly white Eau Claire school district, but officials there decided not to appeal the ruling.

The plan fashioned by the district court requires the Coloma school district to create magnet schools for attendance by Benton Harbor students; to send between 10 percent and 25 percent of its students to those schools; to share transportation costs incurred in such transfers; and to select textbooks and sponsor extracurricular activities in a manner that is sensitive to the needs of black students. The plan also requires the Coloma district to desegregate its faculty, to revise its discipline code, and to pay 10 percent of all consultant expenses incurred in implementing the court's order.

"This desegregation plan, in the words of the district court, linked three 'separate, identifiable areas unrelated by any common pattern of interaction or any common government,' disregarding the areas' geographic structure and natural boundaries in the process," the Coloma schools argued in asking the High Court to take the case, Coloma Community School District v. Berry (Case No. 83-66).

The school district also argued that the white students' transfers cited in the district court's liability finding had been approved by the state board of education.

The Court also refused to consider a separate petition for review by 190 area parents. That case is Fellner v. Berry (Case. No. 83-254).

In other action last week:

The Court let stand a ruling by the Supreme Court of Nebraska that the Education of All Handicapped Children Act of 1975 required a school district to pay the full cost of a multiply handicapped child's education and care during his placement in a private psychiatric facility of his parents' choosing.

The case, Adams Central School District v. Deist (Case No. 83-224), began with an administrative hearing sought by the parents of the child in order to modify his individualized education plan (iep).

The child had been placed in a special educational unit for handicapped children, but in December 1977 he became violent and struck his teachers and other students. Subsequently, he was placed in a state-operated mental institution.

After he had been there for approximately 16 months, the boy's parents, without notifying the school district, had him placed in a private facility. While he was in this facility, the parents began legal action seeking a new iep for their son.

A hearing officer awarded the parents the authority to have their son placed in a residential facility within the school district, although none existed at the time of his ruling. The officer also ordered the school district to pay all expenses for the boy's institutionalization, an amount that totaled approximately $5,000 per month.

A state district court overturned the hearing officer's ruling regarding the payment of monetary damages to the parents, but the state Supreme Court reinstated it on appeal.

The Justices heard oral arguments in Migra v. Warren City School District (Case No. 82-738), in which they were asked to determine whether a school administrator who successfully sued her school district in a state court for breach of contract could file a separate civil-rights claim in federal court.

Lower federal courts have ruled that such actions are prohibited by the legal principle of res judicata, which prohibits the rehearing of claims already decided.

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