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Stop Involuntary Teacher Transfers, Justice Department Tells District

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Washington--The Prince George's County, Md., school board is scheduled to vote this week on a response to a Justice Department demand that it end its policy of involuntarily transferring teachers to maintain racial balance in school faculties.

The department's announcement last month that it had determined the faculty assignment plan to be discriminatory marked the first time that Reagan Administration officials had expanded their opposition to racial quotas in employment beyond the realms of hiring and promotion.

If pursued under the incoming Bush Administration, civil-rights lawyers said last week, the challenge to the Prince George's County staff4ing policy could have wide ramifications for efforts to maintain racially balanced school faculties in districts across the nation, many of which use similar racially conscious transfer and assignment procedures.

Attorney General Richard Thornburgh, who is slated to remain in his post under the Bush Administration, did not officially authorize the department's finding, but he "was informed and supports this action," said Mark Weaver, the spokesman for the department's civil-rights division.

To guard against resegregation, the Prince George's school board requires transfers when the percentage of white or minority teachers in a school falls below 35 percent or rises above 50 percent.

The policy requires that teachers of whichever race is overrepresented be reassigned to new schools, regardless of their seniority level.

In a letter signed by William Bradford Reynolds Jr. on Dec. 9, his last day as assistant attorney general for civil rights, the department maintained that such a policy violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits racial discrimination in employment.

The Prince George's board adopted the policy in 1971 in an agreement with state and federal officials.

The Justice Department contends that the transfer policy should have ended when the vestiges of discrimination in faculty assignments had been eliminated. That, they said, had occurred by 1974.

Mr. Reynolds's letter also cited a 1983 ruling by U.S. District Judge Frank A. Kaufman, in a separate desegregation action against the district, that past discrimination in teacher assignments had been remedied.

The department informed county school officials in August that it had begun an investigation based on news accounts and complaints from teachers.

The investigation revealed that at least five white high-school teachers and one white guidance counselor had been informed last spring that they would be involuntarily transferred from their current school assignment, despite the fact that each was more senior than a black teacher in the same subject area, according to Mr. Reynolds's letter.

The letter offered the district a chance to avoid litigation by agreeing to terminate the policy, allow teachers reassigned under the policy to transfer back to their original schools, and compensate them for any economic losses they may have incurred.

"This issue has been raised before and rejected by the courts," said David Tatel, a prominent desegregation lawyer who represents the naacp in a lawsuit against the Prince George's schools.--ws

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