Bush Endorses Civil-Rights Revisions To Permit Academies for Black Males

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WASHINGTON--President Bush said last week that he would favor changing civil-rights law if that were necessary to permit special schools for black males.

When asked about such schools in a White House session with education reporters, Mr. Bush expressed support for "as much innovation as possible" in education.

A federal judge last month issued a preliminary injunction barring the Detroit Board of Education from admitting only boys to three academies offering an African-centered curriculum and other special programs that school officials said would address the problems of young inner-city males. ('See Education Week, Sept. 4, 19913

"As I understand that one, they were treating with kids who had had backgrounds that were plagued with violence or whatever," Mr. Bush said of the Detroit academies.

"If our experience shows us that we need to get modifications [of the law] to accommodate academies of that nature, we ought to do it," the President continued, 'because I do believe that something of that nature has some merit."

In an earlier conversation, Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander had told reporters that he believed that separate school programs for minority boys violate the "important principle" of desegregated schools.

President Bush said that Mr. Alexander had "addressed himself to an entirely different question" and that "we're together on this."

"I addressed the question of all-black schools, not all-male schools," Secretary Alexander said at last week's session.

Officials of the American Civil Liberties Union and the NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund decried Mr. Bush's endorsement of such all-male academies, which he likened to groups such as the Boy Scouts.

Mr. Bush's stance "essentially strengthens our sense that the President is willing to trade off the equity goals under the guise of promoting choice," said Walteen Grady Truely, director of the NOW Legal Defense Fund's project on equal-education rights.

Philip Gutis, a spokesman for the A.C.L.U., said single-sex public schools would "inevitably" lead to inequality between boys and girls.

But Jeanne Allen, an education analyst with the Heritage Foundation, said the President's view illustrates "another case in point of a local community coming up with a good idea." "If this is against the law," she said, "then maybe we should change the law--I'm with Bush on that."

Effort Said More Than P.R.

The President spent most of the half-hour meeting with reporters insisting that his education strategy is more than a public-relations campaign and returning the fire of Democratic critics who have asserted otherwise.

'It's a little ironic,"he said, "when some of the critics that say you're not interested in the domestic agenda jump all over you when you demonstrate an abiding interest in education, an interest that I've had, an interest that I will continue to have."

"You have to understand that it's a political year," Mr. Bush continued, alluding to the approach of the 2992 Presidential campaign, "and it's going to get worse, it's going to get much worse, because [the Democrats] have got a game plan: Tear down the President on having no domestic agenda."

Mr. Bush defended the recent round of events he and top Administration officials have staged at schools around the country in support of his America 2000 education-reform plan. (See Education Week, Sept. 11, 1991.)

Presidential visits, he argued, can call attention to educational issues and enlist public support for reform.

When asked te provide examples of concrete actions he has taken to move the nation toward the national education goals set last year by the Administration and the National Governors' Association, Mr. Bush could name only anti-drug programs that predated his term in office and an increase in funding for Head Start, for which the Congress provided larger hikes than he had requested.

The President acknowledged that most of his Administration's strategy calls for action at the state and local levels.

"Far more important than increases in the federal budget, given the roles of the states and localities, is the adoption of these education goals and the beginning of their implementation working in conjunction with the localities," Mr. Bush said.

"It's a different way of approaching it," he said. "It's revolutionary. It isn't thinking the same tired old thoughts that some members of Congress are thinking and bringing us lousy results in the process."

'Dealer's Choice'

The President also cited the desirability of local decision-making in declining to offer an opinion on programs in Oregon and elsewhere that would move some students toward intensive vocational training.

"I'd say dealer's choice," he said. "Let the communities sort this out."

Mr. Bush acknowledged that the most controversial provisions of his proposed education legislation were those that would reward school districts allowing students to attend private school at public expense. But he hedged when asked if he would sign a bill that did not include them.

"I want to sign stuff that has to do with reform, innovation, change," Mr. Bush said. "I'd have to know a little more before I can answer."

He also disagreed with critics who say a program that gives public funds to private religious schools would almost certainly be ruled unconstitutional.

'There may be some challenges in the courts, because there's been lively debate on tiffs, and obviously we have to be guided by what the courts say," Mr. Bush said. "But I just don't start from the premise that what Larnar has outlined or what we're trying to do here would be unconstitutional."

Vol. 11, Issue 03, Page 24

Published in Print: September 18, 1991, as Bush Endorses Civil-Rights Revisions To Permit Academies for Black Males
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