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Seattle School Board Adopts Plan To Phase Out Mandatory Busing

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The Seattle school board voted overwhelmingly this month to phase out mandatory busing for racial balance in the district's schools.

Voluntary desegregation measures that give parents the choice of sending their children to magnet schools or to schools closer to their homes will be instituted as an alternative.

"People now want choices,'' said Superintendent of Schools William Kendrick, who proposed the plan to end busing gradually. "They want to shop more.''

The district will phase out by the end of the 1994-95 academic year a mandatory busing program implemented 15 years ago to avert a civil-rights suit.

Families will be given a choice of schools in their area, and steps will be taken to make unpopular schools more attractive to students from different races and backgrounds. In addition, predominantly white and minority schools will be paired for shared activities.

As part of the plan, district officials are also asking the state board of education to change its definition of racial balance so that district schools can be considered racially balanced with proportionately larger minority populations than currently allowed.

The board's current definition of racial balance allows schools throughout the state of Washington to be up to 76 minority, as long as more than 50 percent of the students are not from a single minority group.

Seattle has asked that the definition be changed so that schools can be considered racially balanced even if up to 82 percent of their students are from a single racial group.

A change in the definition of racial balance would have to be applied statewide and could prevent other districts from getting federal funding for magnet programs.

The Seattle board has opted not to apply for such federal funds beginning next year because, its members say, the federal racial-balance guidelines are too strict and because variations in federal funding under the program have complicated the district's curriculum planning.

Local civil-rights leaders last week were resistant to the district's proposed change in the racial-balance definition.

"If they succeed in that,'' said David C. Bloom, the associate director of the Church Council of Greater Seattle, "then clearly the schools will be more resegregated than they have been.''

Mr. Bloom and Doug Honig, the public-education director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, also were skeptical of the district's ability to keep schools desegregated under a voluntary student-assignment plan.

"It seems to me that the emphasis is no longer on whether we have a desegregated system,'' Mr. Bloom said. "The emphasis seems to be on greater choice, parental satisfaction, and [attracting] more white students.''

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