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Minn. Desegregation Plan Seeks To End 'Isolation'

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The Minnesota State Board of Education last week approved a sweeping statewide desegregation plan that seeks to end white students' cultural isolation, gives minorities more leeway to control their own schools, and requires suburban districts to take steps toward racial integration.

"Racial and cultural isolation is a serious problem in many areas of Minnesota that can and must be addressed in the educational setting,'' the board declared.

While school districts ringing Minneapolis and St. Paul received particular mandates for desegregation, the plan tells all Minnesota districts to "develop community-based plans to address racial and cultural isolation, and prepare students" for a diverse society.

The board approved the plan unanimously.

Although details of the plan are still to be worked out in the legislature and through the agency rule-making process, board members said it signals their commitment to multicultural education in a state that is overwhelmingly white but has a growing minority population.

"This board does not float trial balloons," said Douglas Wallace, a member of the board.

Under the plan, the board's staff will draft new rules for school districts to follow, and the districts are to develop their own plans within a year of adoption of the state rules.

The board emphasized that its "ini4tiatives must not place the burden of integration primarily on the backs of students of color [and] should be voluntary" on their part. The panel also noted its intent "to allow special educational programs that are geared toward special populations within communities of color."

Marsha Gronseth, the board's executive director, said that if minorities "wanted to set up a single-race school, this would allow that" within as-yet unspecified parameters. For example, she said, the meaning of "communities of color," and which minority groups might qualify, remains undefined.

Mr. Wallace said board members and others in the state have been discussing for months whether promoting a greater role by minority groups in devising their own schooling should be endorsed as a progressive measure, or shunned as new segregation.

The board sought a middle ground, he explained. "This is the 'both-and' approach," he said.

"We're not going to let the white communities off the hook," Mr. Wallace vowed, while adding, "We're not mandating busing."

The board is making communities "come up with good, solid plans," Mr. Wallace contended. "We're leaving the door open for a lot of different, creative ways to do that."

At the same time, the board believes "it is the right of communities of color to determine what is best for their kids," Mr. Wallace said. "This does not mean that others would not be welcome as part of that."

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