Bias Found in Yonkers Schools, Housing Patterns
City and school officials in Yonkers, N.Y., have taken "remarkably consistent and extreme" steps over the years to ensure that the city's housing patterns and public schools would remain racially segregated, a federal district judge ruled last week.
Far from settling the case, however, U.S. District Judge Leonard B. Sand's Nov. 20 ruling in United States v. City of Yonkers seems to set the stage for a battle royal involving the U.S. Justice Department, Yonkers school and municipal leaders, and a major civil-rights group over the proper scope of the remedy for illegal segregation in the schools.
In a mammoth 589-page decision that took 14 months to produce, Judge Sand held that the Yonkers public schools "not only are racially segregated, but also are unequal in the quality of educational opportunity afforded to students in these schools."
"As a factual matter, the existence of such disparities has clearly worked to the disadvantage of minority students, who for many years have received their educational instruction in generally inferior facilities, from generally less experienced staff, in generally more overcrowded, unstable conditions," he said.
Specifically, Judge Sand found city officials responsible for segregation of the schools due to their decisions to situate public-housing projects in such a way as to perpetuate residential segregation.
School officials, meanwhile, were found liable for their failure to take steps to ameliorate the segregative effects of the housing patterns, and for overt segregation in the district's teaching and administrative staffs and in its vocational- and special-education programs.
The 19,000-student district's enrollment is about 53 percent white and 47 percent minority. The judge found that the vast majority of the minority students attended racially-identifiable schools on the city's west side.
The suit, filed by the Justice Department during the final days of the Carter Administration, is noteworthy in that it represents the federal government's first attempt to link housing and school desegregation in one case.
The housing segment of the suit was settled in February 1984 with an agreement by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to provide funds to build low-income housing on the city's predominantly white East side.
Quick settlement of the school portion of the suit appears unlikely, however. Judge Sand has scheduled a consultation for Dec. 18 to begin the process of scheduling remedial hearings in the case.
Mandatory vs. Voluntary
Michael Sussman, a lawyer for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which represents black parents who have intervened in the case, said last week that his clients would press for the adoption of a desegregation plan featuring mandatory student reassignments and busing.
"In my opinion, the city of Yon-kers has not demonstrated any elements of good faith to lead me to believe that a voluntary plan would work," Mr. Sussman said.
The naacp move will in all likelihood be opposed by the Justice Department, which is the lead plaintiff in the case. William Bradford Reynolds, who heads the department's civil-rights division and who will clear any plan put forward by the government, is an outspoken opponent of mandatory busing.
City Position Unclear
Meanwhile, precisely how municipal officials will respond to the opinion remains unclear.
Two years ago, the Yonkers city council rejected an out-of-court settlement in the case that would have closed nine schools and replaced them with new schools featuring magnet programs.
The settlement, which would have cost $18.5 million over two years, was presented to the council at a time when the city was struggling under the weight of a $41-million budget deficit. Recent reports indicate that the council would prefer to settle the suit rather than continue to fight.
According to Arthur J. Doran Jr., the Yonkers corporation counsel, the city closed its most recent fiscal year with a $2-million budget surplus. "However, if we had to come up with $18.5 million today, well, we don't have it," he was quick to add.
Superintendent of Schools Joan M. Raymond was also hesitant to state how she would respond to the ruling.
"Just exactly what form of remedy will be taken will be based on specific findings in this mammoth document, and I do not know at this time," she said in a prepared statement. "But from what I have been told in a quick briefing by our attorneys, it would appear that the remedy may indeed be far less severe than what many anticipated several years ago."
In this ruling, Judge Sand noted that the Yonkers school board's perpetuation of school segregation "was not overt or explicitly proclaimed."
"The board, however, has not completely eschewed segregative decisionmaking in other areas of school operations affecting Yonkers public schools," he added. "[It] has engaged in unlawfully discriminatory acts and omissions, all of which have had systemwide impact and have served to perpetuate racial segregation in the public schools and discriminatory attitudes in the Yonkers community."
For example, wrote the judge, the board had assigned a disproportionate percentage of minority teachers and administrators to predominantly minority schools, "a clear indication that racial segregation was acceptable."
The judge also cited evidence that minority students are steered into vocational programs, and that a disproportionate percentage of minority students are assigned to special-education classes. He also noted that "all plans to effectuate systemwide desegregative school reorganizations and/or equalize educational opportunities in Yonkers met with disapproval or resistance."
Judge Sand also wrote that he found it "highly unlikely that a pattern of subsidized housing in Yonkers, which so perfectly preserved the overwhelmingly white character of east and northwest Yonkers, came about for reasons unrelated to race."
He further noted that board had failed "to implement student reassignments or educational programs designed to reduce the racial segregation of the public schools and thus ameliorate the segregative impact of the city's housing practices."