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Settlement Pursued in L.A. Desegregation Suit

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Lawyers for the NAACP and the Los Angeles Unified School District are in negotiations in an attempt to settle the nation's largest desegregation lawsuit.

A federal judge ruled in late June that the case against the district, which serves almost 600,000 students, would be dismissed Aug. 22 if the two parties could not reach agreement.

The negotiations are centering on the creation of "educational enhancement programs, in order to relieve the harms of racial isolation,'' Richard Mason, chief legal advisor to the Los Angeles schools, said last week.

Because the dismissal will automatically take effect if an agreement is not reached, the district "does not have a lot of legal incentive to settle,'' Mr. Mason acknowledged.

But district officials "feel that it would be better for everybody if we do,'' he added.

The case, which was filed by the NAACP in April 1981, has never gone to trial.

Pretrial proceedings have been complicated by the existence of a 25-year-old state-court lawsuit, under which the district had been required to implement mandatory busing from 1978 to 1981.

The state court approved the district's current voluntary-desegregation plan in 1981 after California voters approved Proposition 1, which prohibited school districts from busing students to achieve racial integration unless they had been found to have committed intentional discrimination. Such a finding has never been made about the Los Angeles schools.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled in 1983 that the NAACP's federal suit could not address issues or present evidence dating from the period prior to 1981, because the state-court case had settled the violations up to that point.

The district decided to seek a dismissal of the federal case because "the plaintiffs had not complied with discovery obligations and related pretrial commitments,'' Mr. Mason said.

The district intends, he added, to continue its voluntary desegregation plan, which includes magnet schools, minority-to-majority transfers, and educational enhancements in the more than 70 percent of the district's schools that are predominantly minority.

Other Cases Dismissed

A federal judge has dismissed and vacated all orders in three school-desegregation cases in Alabama, saying that the districts met their constitutional obligations during the 13 years that the orders have been in place.

The July 8 ruling by U.S. District Judge William M. Acker, Jr. applies to the public schools of Etowah County, Sylacauga City, and Talladega City.

Last October, Judge Acker issued an order asking parties to the seven school-desegregation cases remaining on his docket to present any reasons that the cases should not be dismissed.

The National Education Association and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc. opposed dismissal in all seven cases and will appeal the three that were dismissed, according to Norman Chachkin, a lawyer for the L.D.F.

The U.S. Justice Department raised objections in four of the seven cases, which involve school districts in Attalla, Bibb County, Gadsden, and Shelby County.

Judge Acker ordered further proceedings in those four cases.

The LDF, in a separate action, is charging that a school-closing and construction plan in Talladega City violates the terms of the 1974 order in the case.

All seven cases were part of a 1963 suit filed by black plaintiffs seeking an end to segregated schools throughout the state of Alabama.

Actions Elsewhere

In other desegregation cases:

  • The federal Judge overseeing St. Louis's school-desegregation case has ordered the district to implement cost-saving measures recommended in a court-ordered audit of its finances. The savings resulting from reductions in administrative overhead, staff, buildings, and services are to help fund the district's massive desegregation effort.
  • The U.S. General Accounting Office is auditing the Cleveland Public Schools' use of desegregation funds provided since 1978. The Cleveland Board of Education, with two members absent, approved a resolution calling upon U.S. District Judge Frank J. Battisti to dismiss the 15-year-old case against the district.
  • U.S. District Judge W. Brevard Hand has approved a provisional five-year voluntary-desegregation plan for the Mobile, Ala., public schools. The new plan calls for extensive renovations of dilapidated schools and the creation of additional magnet schools. Final details of the plan must be worked out by parties to the case by Jan. 1.
  • The Avoyelles Parish [La.] Schools won federal-court approval for a new desegregation plan that includes the closing of four schools and a unification of grade structures in the remainder. The new plan, which will be implemented this fall, replaces one of the few "freedom of choice'' plans remaining from the early years of desegregation in the South.

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