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Court Declines To Hear Yonkers School, Housing Bias Suit

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WASHINGTON--The U.S. Supreme Court last week declined to hear two separate appeals of an unusual federal lawsuit in which both the Yonkers, N.Y., school board and the city of Yonkers were found liable for unconstitutional racial discrimination in education and housing.

The decision, which was made without comment, leaves intact both the federal court order that established mandatory student busing in Yonkers in 1986 and an as-yet-unimplemented order that requires hundreds of public-housing units to be built in predominantly white neighborhoods in the city.

The Court's action does not set a binding precedent outside the jurisdiction of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, which issued the ruling appealed in Yonkers Board of Education v. U.S. (Case No. 87-1632) and City of Yonkers v. U.S. (No. 87-1686).

Nevertheless, said David S. Tatel, a Washington lawyer who specializes in education cases, "most courts will read it as a green light to exploring the housing-education connection.''

Desegregation advocates have long pointed to the cause-and-effect relationship between segregated housing patterns and racially imbalanced enrollment patterns in schools.

The federal courts have redressed inequities stemming from the lack of naturally integrated neighborhoods in many school districts with the uneasy compromise of crosstown busing.

While a number of attempts have been made to link housing- and school-desegregation issues in the same lawsuit, none has gone as far as the Yonkers case.

Mr. Tatel's law firm, Hogan and Hartson, is involved in two of the cases that have sought to establish similar linkages between the causes of and remedies for racial segregation in education and housing.

In St. Louis, a five-year-old court-order requiring the development of housing policies to support school desegregation has not been implemented, Mr. Tatel said.

And last fall, he helped negotiate a court-approved settlement in which the state of Wisconsin agreed to provide assistance in integrating residential neighborhoods in Milwaukee, although state officials did not admit to practicing discriminatory housing practices.

Yonkers Sets Precedent

The Yonkers case is unique in that the issues surrounding the education-housing linkage were fully aired and decided in the federal courts, which creates a legal precedent that could be pursued in other cities in the Second Circuit, including those in Connecticut, New York, and Vermont.

It is also one of only two school-desegregation cases brought to trial by the U.S. Justice Department under the Reagan Administration, which prefers to negotiate compromise solutions in civil-rights cases.

The second case, involving the Charleston, S.C., public schools, went to trial last October and is expected to be completed sometime this summer.

Case Began in 1980

The Justice Department filed the suit against Yonkers in 1980, shortly before President Reagan assumed office. The Yonkers affiliate of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People was later permitted to represent black plaintiffs in the case.

After weighing the voluminous and complicated evidence presented by both sides in the case, U.S. District Judge Leonard B. Sand in 1984 issued a 600-page opinion finding the city and the school district liable for unconstitutional segregation in housing and education.

In 1986, the Yonkers school board implemented the school-desegregation plan approved by Judge Sand, which includes a combination of voluntary and mandatory measures to ensure racial balance in the schools.

The school board has filed a separate suit against the state of New York charging that state actions contributed to the illegal segregation in the school system and seeking financial help to implement the plan.

The city, however, has thus far resisted efforts to implement the housing portion of the order.

Site Selection Divisive

The selection of sites in historically white neighborhoods for 200 units of low-income subsidized housing required under Judge Sand's order has become embroiled in political squabbling and was a major factor in last year's municipal elections.

The order also calls for the city to build an additional 800 units of subsidized housing for moderate-income families.

In their separate requests for a Supreme Court review of the case, both the city and the school board argued essentially that they were not responsible for the segregation in each other's jurisdiction.

"The problems which the public schools in large urban areas confront today are urgent and massive,'' the school board said in its petition. "To add to that agenda responsibility for assessing and untangling the legal ramifications of the placement of public housing with regard to student-assignment policies is a mistake of serious proportions.''

The city, in its petition, said the ruling "converts every finding of housing discrimination into a finding of school segregation if there is a neighborhood-school policy, as is the case in most communities.''

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