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Teachers Lambaste Order in Boston's Desegregation Case

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U.S. District Judge W. Arthur Garrity Jr. last week attempted to bring to a close the long-running Boston school-desegregation case, but the terms and timing of his final orders have angered the Boston Teachers' Union and may provoke another round of court action.

Judge Garrity, in a move requested by lawyers for black and Hispanic plaintiffs in the case, said that the Boston School Committee must continue to abide by a court-ordered affirmative-action plan covering teachers and administrators.

As a result, white teachers with more seniority in the system than their minority counterparts could be forced to bear the brunt of some 375 layoffs the school committee projects it will have to make because the city slashed $30 million from the district's budget request 3. (See Education Week, May 23, 1990.)

The judge's order drew an immediate denunciation from the Boston Teachers' Union, which had argued in court that teachers' contractual seniority rights must be preserved.

But Judge Garrity held that "[w]hen the constitutional rights of pupils, blacks, and other minorities come into conflict with teachers' contractual rights, the latter has to yield."

Edward Doherty, president of the union, said last week that he would recommend that the union appeal the decision.

"To suggest after 15 years [that Judge Garrity is] going to leave the case, but that every staffing decision for the foreseeable future will be based on quotas and race," he said, "is not something this union or another would leave unchallenged."

"It will almost always result," he added, "in virtually saying to any white teacher who wants to come into this school system, 'You will never have security, because you are the people who will be laid off."'

'Good News'

Last week's action by Judge Garrity, who has been gradually reducing his role in the case since 1982, was praised by the lawyers for the minority plaintiffs who filed the suit in 1972.

Louis Elisa, president of the Boston branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, called the order "good news."

But he contended that the school system is still plagued by racially motivated decisionmaking. He cited as an example the school committee's recent firing of Superintendent Laval S. Wilson, who is black.

The issue that drew the national spotlight to the case--mandatory student busing--has largely been defused as the district moves to implement a "controlled choice" student-assignment plan adopted by the school committee last year. (See Education Week, June 7, 1989.)

Judge Garrity said that his final orders, which have not yet been released, will require the school district's department of implementation, which monitors desegregation issues, to continue its work.

He also indicated that a plan to upgrade school facilities will be required to continue, and he permanently enjoined the district from discriminating on the basis of race.

But in a development that observers say could make it more difficult for the plaintiffs to raise challenges to future district actions, the judge has indicated that the process previously used to revisit issues in the case will no longer apply.

That means that new suits would have to be filed if any provisions of his orders were not complied with.

'Bombshell' Move

Judge Garrity's announcement during a routine hearing in April that he would issue final orders in the desegregation case came as a surprise to those involved.

The judge's decision to end his involvement was a "bombshell," said Henry C. Dinger, the school committee's special counsel on desegregation issues.

"I'm not criticizing Judge Garrity, but this was a very bad time to do this," he added, referring to the volatility surrounding the issue of threatened teacher layoffs.

Both Mr. Elisa of the NAACP and Mr. Doherty of the teachers' union added that tension between black and white teachers over the layoffs was particularly unfortunate now, because Boston schools are beginning to implement a teachers' contract that calls for school-based management and other measures that are based on the principle of cooperation among staff members.

The orders disclosed last week mean that 375 white teachers, many with more than 20 years' experience, and 3 black teachers are facing layoffs, according to Mr. Doherty.

The union does not believe that any teachers should be fired, he added.

"If affirmative action is a desirable social policy," Mr. Doherty asserted, "then society should pay for maintaining affirmative action, and it should not fall on 300 or 400 teachers to give up their career to pay for it."

The affirmative-action plan requires the district to achieve and maintain staffing levels of 25 percent for black teachers and administrators and 10 percent for members of other minority groups.

Of the 4,700 teachers in Boston, 23.8 percent are black, while members of other minority groups make up another 10 percent.

Mr. Dinger noted that the school committee's affirmative-action policy already mirrors Judge Garrity's guidelines, and thus the district did not argue against them during last week's hearing.

The plaintiffs had been concerned that an initial draft of the judge's proposed orders did not mention maintaining the affirmative-action goals.

Not 'Racially Neutral'

In successfully making their case for continuation of the current affirmative-action plan, lawyers for the plaintiffs argued that seniority is not a "racially neutral" criterion for laying off teachers, because of the city's history of discriminatory hiring practices.

If teachers were laid off according to seniority, the school district has estimated, 260 of the 375 teachers facing termination would have been members of minority groups.

The school committee was forced to send notices of potential layoffs to 795 teachers of all races earlier this month because of a budget dispute with Mayor Raymond L. Flynn.

Members of the committee protested a city order to issue the notices and have indicated that they do not intend to fire any teachers.

Judge Garrity's order maintaining the affirmative-action policy will expire once the teaching force has a sufficient number of minority teachers with enough seniority so that layoffs will not disproportionately affect them, according to Caroline Playter, who represents the Hispanic students and parents in the lawsuit.

Ms. Playter said the judge's decision provides "a good framework" for the school system to continue integrating its staff.

The teachers' union made the argument that minority teachers are increasingly difficult to hire, but Ms. Playter said the the district has been able to hire minority teachers "when they want to."

"The teachers'-union argument that there are no people out there is not valid in my opinion," she said. "It's just further trying to block the desegregation of the staff."

History of Appeals

The union has twice appealed decisions by Judge Garrity on faculty-integration guidelines, which were first instituted in 1975.

In 1981, when the school system also was faced with the prospect of laying off teachers, the union appealed a decision by the judge that the firings could be based on race, not seniority. The union lost its case on appeal, and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case.

Mr. Doherty said 710 white teachers lost their jobs in the 1981 layoffs.

In 1985, the union unsuccessfully sought to block Judge Garrity's order that year specifying the current racial goals for faculty members and administrators.

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