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Appeals-Court Panel Upholds Plan in Savannah

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A federal appeals-court panel has upheld the voluntary desegregation plan developed by the Savannah-Chatham County (Ga.) Public Schools.

Under the plan approved by U.S. District Judge B. Avant Edenfield in 1988, most of the district's 30,000 students attend neighborhood schools whose attendance boundaries were redrawn to maximize racial balance in enrollments.

The voluntary plan, which replaced a 16-year-old busing plan that led to "white flight" from the public schools, also relies on magnet programs and on minority-to-majority student transfers to attract blacks to predominantly white schools. (See Education Week, June 22, 1988.)

"The district court found here that the plan proposed by the school board relying on voluntary desegregation techniques is par8ticularly appropriate in light of the previous failure of mandatory pairing and busing," the three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit ruled late last month. "The district court made no clear error in making this determination."

In handing down its ruling, the appeals panel rejected a challenge from the naacp Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

The fund had argued that the plan's use of self-contained magnet programs at predominantly black schools, in which magnet students do not mix in classrooms with non-magnet students, represents "in-school segregation" since many all-black classrooms remain.

The fund filed a request last week for a rehearing by the panel and the full appeals court.

The district-court order had also been challenged by the U.S. Justice Department, which sought a plan requiring magnet students to mix with resident students during part of the school day, such as in physical-education classes and during lunchtime.

But the district and the Justice Department signed an agreement earlier this year in which the district agreed to encourage more such mixing. The appeals-court ruling orders the district court to incorporate the agreement into its desegregation order.

Janelle Byrd, a lawyer with the naacp fund, said the case demands further review because "this is the first time the court has approved in-school, in-class segregation."

"That is a departure from longstanding precedent that did not approve that," she added. "The decision basically approves part-time desegregation."--mw

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