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State Approves Philadelphia Desegregation Plan

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Philadelphia--The School District of Philadelphia will have three years to try to desegregate schools through a voluntary plan, which rules out mandatory busing, under a "memorandum of understanding" reached last week between the District and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission.

The agreement is a dramatic change of position for the commission, the agency responsible for enforcing desegregation in Pennsylvania. Since it first ordered Philadelphia public schools desegregated 15 years ago, the commission has been trying to force the district to adopt mandatory measures.

Measures Unsuccessful

As recently as four weeks ago, the commission had rejected the plan proposed by Schools Superintendent Constance E. Clayton because, commissioners said, the plan relied on voluntary measures that had proved unsuccessful in the past.

But after three days of negotiations two weeks ago, Homer C. Floyd, executive director of the commission, recommended that the commission give Ms. Clayton, the district's first black superintendent, a chance to try her voluntary plan. The plan includes some voluntary busing, the development of cross-cultural curricula at schools that remain predominantly one race, and programs to improve academic achievement at the racially isolated schools with the lowest performance records.

Mr. Floyd said he decided to recommend approval of the plan because court hearings on it were just days away and the commission staff had failed to come up with an alternative plan.

Under the terms of its memorandum, the commission agrees to withdraw litigation for three years. During that time, the memorandum says, the commission will monitor the district's progress.

If, at the end of the three years, the commission feels the district has not achieved "maximum feasible desegregation" (a term not defined in the agreement), it may ask the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court to appoint a "settlement team." The team will have the option of ruling that the district's plan has either achieved adequate desegregation or appears likely to achieve desegregation, or that further measures are necessary.

Lengthy Court Battle

The district's desegregation consultant, Ralph R. Smith, a University of Pennsylvania law professor, says the settlement team was designed to prevent another lengthy court battle between the district and the commission at the end of three years.

But Mr. Floyd stressed that the commission was not abdicating its responsibility for the enforcement of desegregation. "If desegregation has not been achieved at the end of three years," he said, "we will take a stronger approach."

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