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U.S. To Pay Court Costs in Ga. Desegregation Cases

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The U.S. Justice Department has agreed to fund the costs of collecting data from nine Georgia school districts whose long-standing school-desegregation cases the department would like to end.

The decision clears the way for the federal officials to proceed with their motions to dismiss the lawsuits, which are serving as test cases for a much broader effort to free as many as 220 school districts from desegregation-related court supervision.

The process had been delayed by officials of the districts involved, who stated in an earlier judicial status conference that they could not afford the costs of documenting that they have complied with the 144year-old court orders.

In response, U.S. District Judge Wilbur D. Owens Jr. ruled in August that he would return the cases to his inactive docket unless the department accepted any financial burden that the dismissal process would impose on the nine districts, all in small rural communities scattered across Georgia. (See Education Week, Sept. 7, 1988.)

The documentation has been requested by the naacp Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc., which is nominally on the same side of the case as Justice, but which opposes unconditional dismissals.

The Legal Defense Fund and some of the targeted districts have filed joint motions seeking dismissal of the cases with a provision that they would remain bound by the current court orders.

The Justice Department will be deciding "in the near future" how it will respond to these motions, said Mark R. Weaver, a spokesman for the department.

Department officials have earlier said that they would agree to new orders that would be more broadly worded to prohibit the districts from operating in an unconstitutional manner.

"We believe that fundamental fairness requires that districts that have eliminated discrimination should not be treated any different than other districts," said Mr. Weaver.--ws

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