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Cincinnati Settles 10-Year-Old Desegregation Case

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Cincinnati--The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Cincinnati Public Schools, and the State of Ohio this month apparently ended a 10-year-old desegregation case with a tentative settlement that allows the local school district to choose its own methods of desegregating its schools.

The Cincinnati case is the first in which the naacp has consented to give a district considerable flexibility in methods, negotiators for the civil-rights association said. But if the district fails to meet the numerical desegregation goals within seven years, the settlement gives the association the right to have the contract enforced by the courts.

Under the agreement announced on Feb. 16, the 51,000-student school district, which is about 57 percent black, must substantially reduce segregation in its schools by 1991, using an index that measures racial isolation by a districtwide standard. A federal-court hearing will be held halfway through the seven-year term to determine whether the district is progressing toward that goal.

The state will provide $35 million toward the development and expansion of the desegregation methods identified in the plan. Those methods include magnet schools, upgraded remedial programs in schools with large proportions of low-achieving students, and a community-education program.

The agreement has been approved by the Cincinnati and state boards of education. It is expected to be entered with the U.S. District Court here following an April 6 hearing at which Judge Walter Rice will determine whether the plaintiffs believe they were adequately represented by naacp negotiators.

'Voluntary Choices'

In announcing the agreement, Judge Rice said, "There's cause to believe that the wide variety of voluntary choices available under the settlement will make it unnecessary for any child to ride a bus except by choice."

Thomas I. Atkins, chief counsel for the naacp, said, "That is the district's hope. We don't disagree that they can try it. But it's deceptive and inaccurate to suggest that that's the only way it can get done."

Mr. Atkins added, "This is not a voluntary plan. It is a fairly precise set of requirements with the techniques [for desegregation] being left to the local school district."

The Cincinnati agreement, Mr. Atkins said, does not signal a shift in the naacp's approach to desegregation cases. "It is simply a local approach to achieve a national priority," he said. "It is a variation of an approach not yet tried."

William L. Taylor, director of the Center for National Policy Review at Catholic University of America and chief naacp negotiator in the Cincinnati talks, said the significant difference between the Cincinnati settlement and one struck last month by the U.S. Justice Department in Bakersfield, Calif., is the requirement that the school district meet certain standards for desegregation or face a court-ordered remedy. "We have a bottom line; they don't," he said.

The standard in the Cincinnati plan is the Taeuber Index, a measurement of racial isolation never before incorporated into a school-desegregation plan, according to Mr. Taylor.

The index, developed by Karl Taeuber of the University of Wisconsin, measures the extent of desegregation on a scale of 0 to 100, with zero indicating that the racial balance in elementary, junior high, and high schools reflects that of the entire district, and with 100 representing total racial isolation.

This school year, Cincinnati's elementary schools measure 53 on the Taeuber Index. By 1990-91, under the terms of the consent decree, they are to register no more than 36.5. This districtwide method of measurement, Mr. Taylor said, will tolerate greater school-by-school variations in racial composition than the more familiar formulas that call for each school in a district to reflect the racial composition of the district as a whole, plus or minus, for example, 15 percent.

"We were not able to agree on a school-by-school formula, so we3went to this formula," Mr. Taylor said. "There are 13 schools in the district that are 90-to-100 percent black. To get to that 36.5, they will have to decrease racial isolation significantly at most of those black schools."

Asked why the civil-rights organization decided to try the variation in Cincinnati, Mr. Atkins replied, "Why not?"

Extensive Network

Other observers, however, have speculated that the naacp was willing to experiment in Cincinnati because of its decade-long experience with magnet schools, generally considered one of the most extensive such networks in the U.S.

The naacp filed its class action, Bronson v. Cincinnati Board of Education, on behalf of 12 children in 1974. Two years later, it added 17 suburban school districts to the case, alleging that those districts committed acts that contributed to racial isolation in city schools.

In December, Judge Rice dismissed the suburbs from the case. Mr. Atkins has asked that they be reintroduced; his motion is expected to be heard after the settlement in the city portion of the case is entered with the court. naacp officials have said they will pursue individual actions against the suburban districts, however, if that motion is unsuccessful.

The naacp's failure thus far to secure serious consideration of a metropolitan case in Cincinnati may have influenced the association's willingness to allow the district more flexibility, some observers believe. Since the remedy will be restricted in the foreseeable future to a predominantly black central-city district, the Cincinnati settlement ''reflects reality," said Daniel U. Levine, an authority on magnet6schools who teaches at the University of Missouri in Kansas City.

And Gary Orfield, a political-science professor at the University of Chicago who served as a court expert in the St. Louis desegregation case and as co-chairman of a settlement team in San Francisco, postulated that the naacp, eager to pursue metropolitan remedies in desegregation cases, is moving to settle cases like Cincinnati's that "have been hanging for so long."

State Funds

Under the Cincinnati agreement, new magnet programs will not receive state funds unless they are successful in achieving desegregation in one year.

School officials estimate that by 1991, 2,000 to 3,000 students now enrolled in racially isolated schools must transfer to other schools, and the racial balance in both sets of schools must be improved, for the plan to be successful.

G. David Schiering, negotiator forthe Cincinnati Board of Education, estimated that about 5,000 to 6,000 openings for students will be created in the new alternative programs--more than enough to make the voluntary effort work.

The agreement also calls for:

The selection, by the school district and the naacp, of a coordinator to monitor the progress of the plan.

The development of community task forces to review student-discipline policies and to establish safeguards against cultural bias in testing.

The establishment of a recruitment center to encourage students to transfer to the magnet programs.

The location of new magnet programs in racially isolated areas whenever possible.

The prevention of racial isolation within school buildings.

The filing of impact statements, by the naacp and the school district, on the potential segregative effects of new housing developments in the city.

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