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U.S. Approves Voluntary Plans To Desegregate

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The Reagan Administration last week filed its first school-desegregation suit, then immediately resolved it by approving a desegregation plan for elementary schools in Bakersfield, Calif., that will rely totally on voluntary student transfers.

The consent decree settling the Bakersfield dispute was filed with U.S. District Judge Edward Dean Price simultaneously with a lawsuit by the Administration. The suit alleged that the 18,500-student district, which serves kindergarten through grade 8, was guilty of intentional student segregation. Judge Price immediately approved the pact, which the Justice Department termed "a blueprint for the future."

Less than a week earlier, the Justice Department reached a similar negotiated settlement with the public schools in Lima, Ohio.

Both plans call for the establishment of magnet schools, policies permitting voluntary student transfers to improve racial balance, and the provision of transportation for all students who elect to make such transfers.

Civil-rights groups were quick to condemn the settlements, claiming that voluntary measures such as magnet schools generally work only when crafted as part of Continued on Page X

Justice Department, Districts Agree on Voluntary

Desegregation Plans

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comprehensive plans requiring mandatory student reassignments.

But in defense of such agreements, William Bradford Reynolds, the assistant attorney general for civil rights, said the Administration "continues to believe that school systems can be desegregated by voluntary means that eliminate racial isolation and improve education programs."

"Mandatory busing is not acceptable," Mr. Reynolds said at a press conference in Washington to announce the signing of the agreement with the Bakersfield schools.

He added that the U.S. Supreme Court has never held that de-facto racial segregation in schools is unconstitutional. "It is only unconstitutional when it's a forced situation because the school system has put it into place intentionally," he said.

Approximately 46 percent of the California district's students are white, 36 percent are Hispanic, 16 percent are black, 1 percent are Asian or Pacific Islander, and 1 percent are American Indian or Alaskan native, according to Paul L. Cato, the district's assistant superintendent.

Four of the district's 25 schools currently have enrollments that range from 1-percent to 8-percent white, Mr. Cato said. Two other schools in the district have white enrollments of 81 percent and 79 percent.

The consent decree requires the school district to create full-time magnet programs in either science, computer-assisted instruction, performing arts, gifted-and-talented education, and extended-day-in-struction at the four predominantly minority schools.

In addition, the decree requires the district to "encourage minority students who attend racially imbalanced schools to transfer permanently to the two predominantly white schools." Under this "controlled-open-enrollment" program, the district is to increase minority enrollment in the predominantly white schools by up to 30 students per year for the next three years.

Finally, Mr. Cato said, the district has pledged to pump $130,000 this year into the four predominantly minority schools for programs to improve student achievement in reading and mathematics.

"So far, we haven't heard any objections to the plan from the community," Mr. Cato said. "We hope we won't encounter any rejection."

The Bakersfield case was referred to the Justice Department by the Education Department's office for civil rights in 1982 after 15 years of administrative proceedings had failed to resolve student-assignment issues.

Signed Compliance Agreement

In January 1981, during the final days of the Carter Administration, ocr and Bakersfield school officials signed a compliance agreement requiring the district to adjust school-attendance boundaries to reduce racial isolation, to reduce segregation in its special-education classes, and to upgrade its bilingual-education program.

According to papers filed with the district court, the agreement fully remedied the special- and bilingual-education violations but not all of the student-assignment violations.

The civil-rights office referred the case to the Justice Department in July 1982 because the district had failed to take steps "to correct the alleged segregated condition of its schools," according to the court papers.

Magnets, Transfers in Lima

In the Lima, Ohio, dispute, the Justice Department on Jan. 20 accepted a desegregation plan that will establish a magnet elementary school, permit any student transfers that improve racial balance, and provide transportation to all students who select schools more than two miles from their homes, according to Earl A. McGovern, superintendent of the school district.

Only the elementary schools in the district will be affected by the consent decree, which was ratified by the U.S. District Court for Northern Ohio. Mr. McGovern said the city's one high school, its three junior high schools, and six of its 12 elementary schools already reflected, within 15 percentage points, the overall racial makeup of the district. About 38 percent of Lima's 7,200 students are members of minority groups.

"We hope this will bring all of the schools within 15 percent [of the district average]," Mr. McGovern said. "It does give some leeway, up to 20 percent, for the magnet school. I think it's achievable." The consent decree stipulates that the case may be reopened if the voluntary plan fails to bring all the city's schools into compliance within three years.

Although the school district's racial makeup had been under federal scrutiny since the late 1960's, the Justice Department did not file suit until late 1980, after Jimmy Carter had been defeated in his re-election bid but before he left office. Trial was set for April 1984, but the government and the school board "have been in very, very serious negotiations since last June," Mr. McGovern said.

The school system will bear the cost of developing the magnet program and will receive some state aid for the additional transportation costs incurred, he added.

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