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San Jose Bias Remedies Offer 'Choice'

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A federal district judge opened hearings last week on a pair of desegregation plans for the San Jose, Calif., public schools that both employ a politically popular selling point: the promise to enhance parental choice in education.

In papers filed with the court last month, the Hispanic parents who are plaintiffs in the case argue that a program of "controlled open enrollment"--patterned on one used by the Cambridge, Mass., public schools--would be the best means of promoting choice while achieving the greatest possible degree of integration in the city's schools.

San Jose school officials, meanwhile, are advocating for the same reasons the adoption of a plan--patterned after one in Milwaukee--that relies mainly on selective school closings and a major expansion of the district's magnet-school program.

The hearings on the plans began Dec. 11 and were scheduled to end late this week. U.S. District Judge Robert F. Peckham has agreed to a request by city officials that he reach a decision in the case by Dec. 31 to enable the district to qualify for state school-desegregation assistance.

Last week's hearings were the latest development in Diaz v. San Jose Unified School District, a 14-year-old suit with a complex legal history.

Throughout that history, San Jose officials have conceded that schools in the crescent-shaped, 16-mile-long district are racially imbalanced, with Hispanics concentrated in the district's older, northern section. The officials, however, attribute the imbalance to a racially neutral neighborhood-school policy.

The 30,000-student district currently has an enrollment that is about 57 percent white, 31 percent Hispanic, and 12 percent black and Asian.

Decision Overturned

Judge Peckham twice ruled in the district's favor, as did a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. That decision was overturned by a 8-to-3 vote when the case was reheard by all 11 judges on the circuit court. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the case earlier this year, sending it back to Judge Peckham for the de-velopment of a remedial plan. (See Education Week, May 8, 1985.)

The proposal put forward by the plaintiffs would divide the district into three slender zones that include both Hispanic and white areas of the elongated district. Parents would be required to provide school officials with a list ranking in order the schools they would want their children to attend within their designated zone.

Competing Plans

The racial composition of each school would be allowed to deviate by only 5 percentage points from the racial composition of that zone's total student population for the age group attending the school.

Michael J. Alves, director of the Massachusetts' Title IV desegregation-assistance center and one of the developers of the plan, said he estimates that 30 percent of all parents would not be granted their first choice of school.

Under the competing plan, San Jose officials propose closing a predominantly Hispanic high school in the northern section of the district and reassigning its students to nearby predominantly white schools. In addition, all 14 schools in the district's predominantly Hispanic section would either be converted into magnet schools or would offer certain magnet programs.

The district's plan provides for mandatory student reassignments if, after four years, the plan fails to shift the racial composition in each school to within 20 percentage points of the racial composition of the district as a whole.

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