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Justice Signals Next Moves For Desegregation Case Dismissals

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WASHINGTON--The Justice Department has sent letters to 23 Alabama school superintendents in a preliminary step to determine whether the districts are eligible to be dismissed from their school-desegregation cases, a department official said last week.

The districts have been asked to provide data that will help the department determine whether or not they have complied with court orders in their cases, said Nathaniel Douglas, chief of the education section in the department's civil-rights division.

The Justice Department has filed motions seeking the dismissal of nine school-desegregation cases in Georgia, and may seek to end as many as 220 such cases nationwide in the coming months. (See Education Week, March 16 and May 4, 1988.)

A status conference held last week on the nine Georgia cases clarified that the major issue dividing parties to the suits is whether permanent injunctions should remain in place if the cases are dismissed.

In the conference, U.S. District Judge Wilbur Owens asked the department to file a brief in support of its position that dismissal of the cases would terminate all outstanding court orders issued in the cases, according to lawyers who were present.

The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which is nominally on the same side of the cases as the Justice Department, would agree not to oppose the dismissals only if the current orders in the case are allowed to remain in effect, said Norman Chachkin, an LDF lawyer.

The department has 30 days to file its brief, and the LDF will then have 30 days to respond, making further action in these cases unlikely before the summer.--WS

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