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Private-School Apartheid Protest Asked

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The association representing the nation's most prestigious private schools has called upon its members to publicly repudiate apartheid, South Africa's policy of racial separation.

In a statement mailed this month to 1,000 private schools, the National Association of Independent Schools urged "trustees, heads, faculties, and students in member schools to declare their opposition to apartheid as part of their educational responsibility."

Also this month, officials from 16 private schools in New York City met to explore the options available to private schools with limited endowments for protesting South African racial policies.

The actions were seen by many as the first strong evidence that apartheid and South African divestiture--issues that have stirred protest on college campuses for years--may become major issues for private elementary and secondary schools. Previously, anti-apartheid actions have been confined to individual private-school campuses.

The nais statement, adopted by the association's board of directors last month, recommends that member schools "seek out ways to give substance to their declarations" against apartheid and offers assistance in sharing information and activities.

'Educational Responsibility'

The statement lists various educational and political actions taken by other institutions, and says that the nais is reviewing its own in-vestments to ensure that they conform to its anti-apartheid policy.

"There is a recognition by our board that some schools have wide pools of investments that would catch them up in this issue," said John E. Bachman, acting president of the organization.

But divestiture is not the primary concern at most private schools, said Mr. Bachman. "A lot of our schools have no endowment," he said. He added that although the association holds no equity investments, "we're going to cast a beady eye on the banks in which our money is held."

The nais is not making specific recommendations to its members, Mr. Bachman said, because there are many actions available to private schools. The board's statement was prompted, he said, by a belief that apartheid violates human rights fundamental to education.

"We very much feel that apartheid is a national concern and our students are--or ought to be--thinking about it," said the nais acting president.

School Officials Meet

At the New York City meeting, trustee representatives from 16 of the city's independent schools dis-cussed ways to use their investments to influence corporate policies in South Africa.

Gus Trowbridge, headmaster at the Manhattan Country School, which organized the conference, said the 50 officials who took part in the daylong conference demonstrated "a clear desire to move their institutions forward on this subject."

"By and large, most of the participating schools have not yet addressed the issue of divestment," said Mr. Trowbridge. "They've been protected from a public accounting."

But now, he added, the issue has become "overwhelming," and an examination of the rapidly expanding debate over investment policies--a debate that he says "hasn't yet trickled down to private schools"--seems imperative.

Representatives from businesses, schools, activist groups, and research agencies spoke at the meeting, said Mr. Trowbridge, exploring all aspects of divestiture. The Manhattan Country School plans to make a transcript of the proceedings available to interested schools, he said.

'Lagging Behind'

According to several private-education officials, independent elementary and secondary schools are "lagging behind" colleges and universities in the anti-apartheid movement. Only a handful of schools, they said, have adopted policies restricting their investments in companies that do business there.

"There hasn't been a lot of action, although a lot of boards are thinking about it," said Robert Smith, executive director of the Council on Amer-ican Private Education.

But he said private-school officials are now taking the initiative in the debate, not waiting for student unrest to surface on their campuses. Many concerned parents sit on the schools' governing boards, he said.

"There is a direct connection between what the kids are thinking, what their parents are thinking, and what the schools are doing," said Mr. Smith.

Extent of Activity

Analysts with the Investor Responsibility Research Center, a nonprofit group that monitors corporate policies in South Africa for nearly 100 colleges and universities, said they were unaware of substantial private-school activity in the area at present.

A preliminary analysis of the results of a survey of the nais membership by Massachusetts' Concord Academy found that 45 of the 235 schools responding had considered using their investment policy to register their opposition to apartheid.

Of these, 34 indicated that they were interested in individual or collective economic sanctions aimed at influencing corporations that do business in South Africa.

The Concord Academy has not yet adopted a formal policy on South African investments, according to its headmaster, Thomas A. Wilcox. He said the survey was intended to explore whether or not the school could increase the influence of its relatively small endowment by joining in collective actions with other schools.

Mr. Trowbridge, meanwhile, said he expected the quiescent stance of the past to change significantly soon. "The issue of divestment is becoming as compelling to people in the 1980's as the draft was to people in the 1960's," he said.

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