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San Jose Desegregation Plan Approved

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A federal district judge has approved a desegregation plan fashioned by the San Jose, Calif., public schools that would rely on a new system of magnet schools to achieve its goals.

In his Dec. 31 order in the case, however, U.S. District Judge Robert F. Peckham rejected a key part of the school board's proposal: the conversion of a predominantly Hispanic high school into a magnet school for grades 6 through 12 and of a predominantly Hispanic middle school into a magnet elementary school.

He also rejected the board's request that the court automatically end its jurisdiction in the case as soon as 75 percent of the district's students attend schools that reflect to within 20 percentage points the racial composition of the entire district.

Judge Peckham said he would continue to oversee the district's affairs until all its students attend schools that meet the desegregation standard.

The crescent-shaped, 30,000-student district has an enrollment that is about 31 percent Hispanic, with practically all of those students residing in its older, northern section. White students make up 57 percent of the enrollment, with blacks and Asians constituting the remaining 12 percent.

'Community Focal Points'

In papers filed with the court, lawyers for the Hispanic parents who initiated the lawsuit said the plan to convert the two largely Hispanic schools into magnet schools was "constitutionally infirm," adding that it would have resulted "in the elimination of minority community focal points."

The Hispanic plaintiffs had asked the judge to approve a "controlled open enrollment" plan based on one in Cambridge, Mass. The plan submitted by the San Jose board and adopted by Judge Peckham instead uses Milwaukee's "specialty schools" program as its model.

Under the board's plan, all 14 schools in the city's heavily Hispanic north side would have been converted into magnet schools.

Cynthia L. Rice, who represents the plaintiffs in Diaz v. San Jose Unified School District, said she was pleased by the judge's decision not to order the conversion of San Jose High School and Burnett Middle School. She added, however, that she was concerned about possible negative effects the plan could have on the city's Hispanic students.

"In Milwaukee, the main problem you have is that you have nine black kids to every white kid riding buses, and that disparity is caused mainly by" the conversion of neighborhood schools into magnet schools, Ms. Rice said.

"The Milwaukee plan really tore the guts out of [that] city's black neighborhood schools and created a system of 'have' and 'have-not' schools," she continued.

Celia Ruiz, a lawyer for the school board, said she was satisfied with the court's decision, noting that the version of the plan that was adopted "closely parallels what the district wanted."

Chicago, Boston Suits

Federal courts also took new action recently in the Chicago and Boston school-desegregation cases.

In Chicago, a district judge has ruled that a 1980 consent decree obligates the Reagan Administration to pay up to $17.7 million this year and similar amounts in coming years to help desegregate the city's schools. The judge also released about $24 million in federal education funds that had been frozen pending his decision.

U.S. District Judge Marvin E. Aspen's Dec. 23 order came two months after he ruled that the Administration had violated the government's agreement with the city to end racial segregation in its public schools.

The Administration immediately announced its intention to appeal Judge Aspen's order to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit--which will mean the case's second trip to the appellate court. Pending the outcome of the appeal, federal officials have agreed to release about $5.7 million to the city.

The order marks the latest turn in the three-year-old Chicago suit, which has now been heard by two district court judges and which the U.S. Supreme Court has declined to review.

In Boston, U.S. District Judge W. Arthur Garrity Jr.--in a late addition to his final orders closing the city's long-standing school-desegregation suit--last month ordered the city school department to raise the percentage of nonblack minority teachers at the city's three "examination" schools to 10 percent.

In his Dec. 6 order, Judge Garrity noted the he was not setting a deadline by which the department was to meet the new staffing goal. Instead, the judge wrote, he would rely on "the school defendants' commitment to use their best efforts to attain" the nonblack-minority hiring goal for the faculties of the three institutions: Boston Latin School, Latin Academy, and Technical High School. Students take examinations to qualify for admission to the schools.

A Hispanic parents' group had asked the judge to modify his final order to include the new minority-hiring provision.

One of the final orders handed down by Judge Garrity last September requires the school department to raise the percentage of black teachers and administrators at the three schools to 25 percent by 1990.

Staff Writer James Hertling contributed to this report.

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