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Secretary: 'Real Progress' in Colleges' Rights Compliance

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Washington--Ten Southern states that were ordered more than a decade ago to desegregate their higher-education systems have done all they can to equalize opportunity, Education Department officials said last week.

The rest of the burden must be borne by elementary and secondary schools, they said.

In a decision that was denounced by civil-rights advocates, the department's office for civil rights declared four of the states--Arkansas, North Carolina, South Carolina, and West Virginia--to be in compliance with Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination in federally funded programs.

Six others--Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Virginia--were ordered to implement by the end of the year a handful of measures that are called for in their desegregation plans but are as yet incomplete. Many involve improvements at historically black in4stitutions. "Today's announcement signifies real progress by 10 states, and by the United States generally, in the pursuit of full educational opportunity for all students," Secretary of Education William J. Bennett said in making the announcement.

"But the fact of equal access to higher education for all applicants of similar educational qualifications," he continued, "is noteworthy for more than just the past progress it indicates."

"It suggests that American education's role in fulfilling the dream of our civil-rights revolution must increasingly be played by elementary and secondary schools around the country," he said.

"The education civil-rights issues of the next few years will be resolved not in the courtroom but in the classroom," he predicted.

Elliott C. Lichtman, a lawyer who has represented the naacp Legal Defense and Educational Fund in the suit that led to the 10 states' plans, charged that the department had acted "despite the fact that very little progress in desegregation has occurred."

"They assessed the means and not the ends that are achieved," he said, noting that the states had met few of their goals for recruitment of minority students and faculty despite measures called for in the plans.

End of an Era?

Last week's announcement may signal the end of a long battle that began in 1970, when the legal-defense fund sued the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare to force it to move against states it had found to be operating segregated colleges.

A court order in the case, now known as Adams v. Bennett, resulted in 14 states' signing desegregation agreements with the Education Department. Four other states that refused--Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Ohio--are in various stages of litigation with the Justice Department over the issue.

The ocr's recent action concerns states whose plans expired in 1985 and 1986.

Kentucky's plan expired in 1987, while those in Pennsylvania and Texas expire this year. Maryland's plan expires in 1990.

The Adams case, which was broadened to encompass charges that the department was not adequately investigating civil-rights complaints in precollegiate education, was recently dismissed in light of a 1984 U.S. Supreme Court decision. (See Education Week, Jan. 13, 1988.)

Education Department officials said the dismissal did not influence the decisions announced last week.

The legal-defense fund has appealed the dismissal and is likely to appeal the department's compliance findings as well if the order is reinstated, Mr. Lichtman said. Otherwise, he said, it would have no standing to challenge the decision.--jm

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