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Proposed Changes in Louisville Desegregation Plan Spark Furor

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Louisville, Ky--Threats of a new legal battle over desegregation have erupted here as a result of Superintendent of Schools Donald W. Ingwerson's recently proposed revisions in the busing plan that Jefferson County schools have used since 1975.

The desegregation case was closed in 1980, but outraged civil-rights leaders have pledged to initiate another suit if the school board adopts what they term a "one-way busing" plan proposed by Mr. Ingwerson. The superintendent's plan, they contend, represents an attempt to reduce the mandatory busing of suburban white students at the expense of blacks.

The superintendent denies that the plan places an inordinate burden on minority students and has described it instead as an exciting chance to improve education for the county's 92,000 students.

Local civil-rights leaders have described it as discrimination, and their charges were bolstered when Benjamin Hooks, executive director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, termed the Ingwerson proposal "an assault" on blacks.

Leading black clergymen--including the Rev. C. Mackey Daniels, vice chairman of the school board--have denounced Mr. Ingwerson's plan from the pulpit. The local afternoon newspaper, The Louisville Times, editorialized last week that Mr. Ingwerson's proposal "threatens to divide the community as nothing has since desegregation busing began in 1975." And the local League of Women Voters has recommended that the school board reject the plan, saying it "is not equitable, ... discourages housing desegregation, ... and creates socioeconomic segregation in the schools."

At issue is a plan that Mr. Ingwerson unveiled on Feb. 13 in a 78-page booklet entitled "Blueprint for Quality Education ... Every Child a Winner."

Unusual 'Cluster' Plan

The proposal would change the unusual and intricate school-assignment method that has been used in Jefferson County since court-ordered busing for desegregation began eight years ago.

Under that plan, schools are arranged in "clusters," with one school in a predominantly minority neighborhood (called the "head-of-cluster" school) and two to six formerly white schools that exchange students with the head of cluster for desegregation. The first letter of a student's last name determines the years in which he will be bused from his neighborhood school to another school in the cluster.

A white child named Jones, for example, would be bused in the first grade to a head-of-cluster school located in a predominantly black neighborhood; a black child named Jones would be bused in all but the first three grades to formerly white schools in his cluster.

The alphabet-based busing assignments apply to every student who does not attend an "exempt" school--one that is naturally integrated by virtue of neighborhood housing patterns.

The alphabet method has assured that the burden of busing is shared by all but those who live in integrat-ed neighborhoods. But school administrators complain that it also has fragmented community cohesion, because next-door neighbors of the same age may be bused in different years if their surnames place them in different alphabetical groups.

Other problems of desegregation by alphabet include the high turnover--as high as 80 percent, according to principals--that head-of-cluster schools experience each year as students rotate in and out to fulfill their busing obligations. This turnover, Mr. Ingwerson has said, hampers instructional continuity.

Because of such problems, and because 26 of the county's 153 schools failed to comply last year with the black-white ratios called for in the desegregation plan, school-board members asked Mr. Ingwerson months ago to study the feasibility of changing the alphabetical assignment system.

Geographical Plan

What he has proposed is a desegregation plan that would begin using geographical rather than alphabetical assignments for high-school students this fall and for middle-school students in 1985. Like plans more commonly used around the country, the Ingwerson proposal would assign students to schools based solely on where they live. Desegregation would be achieved by busing all children from specific areas where necessary, rather than by busing small groups of students designated alphabetically.

Mr. Ingwerson said the elementary-school assignment plan would probably be changed in 1986, but did not specify how.

Student-assignment projections based on Mr. Ingwerson's proposal indicate that of the 3,900 high-school students who would have de-segregation busing assignments this fall, only 300 would be white--and they would be bused only because they live in the predominantly black neighborhoods targeted for busing.

Of the 2,750 students who would be bused to middle schools the following year, only 250 would be white--and they, too, would be residents of the predominantly black neighborhoods.

These projections have given rise to the charge that black students would bear nearly the entire burden of desegregation under the superintendent's plan.

Mr. Ingwerson initially responded to that charge with the statement: "If it's one-way busing, it's reduced from what it was for all. It's reduced for the black; it's reduced for the white."

Statistical projections accompanying his proposal showed, however, that the number of students bused for desegregation would be reduced by 41.8 percent for whites and by 9.3 percent for blacks during the first two years of the plan.

Disparate Effects Seen

Based on what they can see from the secondary-school elements of the plan, civil-rights leaders charge that it is an attempt to eliminate secondary-school busing for suburban white students.

To support that charge, they cite not only statistics, but the recommendation Mr. Ingwerson has made for historically black Central High School, an institution of symbolic importance to the black community. Since 1975, Central has exchanged students with high schools in the county's affluent, predominantly white east end. Mr. Ingwerson suggested making Central a magnet school with programs capitalizing on its location near downtown Louisville. After an advisory committee objected, he proposed moving the magnet to nearby duPont Manual High School and reassigning Manual's students to Central.

Civil-rights leaders charged that Mr. Ingwerson's decision was made to avoid requiring that any suburban whites be bused to Central.

As the debate has progressed, Mr. Ingwerson has argued that the school system should count as "bused" those white students who voluntarily attend magnet schools located in the inner city. That would be a departure from past practice for school officials, who have historically made a distinction between students who are "transported"--that is, who ride buses to their neighborhood schools or to schools to which they have voluntarily transferred--3and those who are "bused," or involuntarily reassigned to distant schools exclusively for purposes of desegregation.

Civil-rights leaders have countered that fairness would require that at least some whites be given mandatory busing assignments, just as black students who live in the satellite neighborhoods would under the Ingwerson plan.

Compromise Talks

School board members are scheduled to vote on the plan on March 12; public hearings are scheduled for this week and next.

Meanwhile, Mr. Ingwerson has authorized key members of his staff to talk privately with civil-rights leaders about whether compromise is possible on their objections to the plan.

Except for Mr. Daniels, school-board members have remained noncommittal about their reactions to Mr. Ingwerson's plan.

Appearing with Mr. Ingwerson at a local journalists' meeting, the board's chairman, Sherry K. Jelsma, said she did not intend to let the possibility of further legal action sway her analysis of his proposal. ''This board will act in the best interests of children and for their best education, and threats will not alter the course that we have set for ourselves," she said.

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