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Las Vegas Officials Mull Calls To Revise Busing Plan

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Under pressure from black parents, school officials in Las Vegas, Nev., are moving to end a 20-year-old policy of busing black children out of neighborhoods on the west side of the city.

Superintendent Brian M. Cram of the Clark County school district, which includes Las Vegas, said in an interview last week that he expects to revise the district's desegregation plan in time to allow some West Las Vegas elementary school students to enroll in neighborhood schools next fall.

Currently, a desegregation plan implemented by the district in 1972 calls for West Las Vegas children to be bused to schools in other areas from 1st grade through 5th grade and from 7th grade through 12th grade. The six public schools in the neighborhood serve as "6th-grade centers,'' enrolling 6th graders from West Las Vegas and elsewhere in the district.

Black parents from West Las Vegas, complaining that the burden for desegregating the district has been placed on their children, kept hundreds of children out of public schools in August and threatened another boycott last month on a day when the district counts enrollment for state-funding purposes.

Last week, a committee appointed by the superintendent held public hearings on proposed changes in the desegregation plan that, district officials said, could be made final next month.

"We are giving serious consideration to revisions of the plan that would permit minority students who live in West Las Vegas the option to remain in their neighborhood school in the 1st grade through 3rd grade,'' Mr. Cram said last week.

"The fact that they are bused 11 of the 12 years is disproportionate,'' he said, adding that district officials and neighborhood residents appear "headed toward the same goal.''

Community Group's Agenda

With an estimated enrollment this year of 136,000 students, Clark County is one of the 15 largest school districts in the country. Its enrollment is about 14 percent black and 13 percent Hispanic, with an additional 6 percent of students coming from other minority groups.

Leaders of the community group West Side Alliance Action Korps-Uplifting People, or WAAK-UP, which held its first meeting in March, have asserted that black students in West Las Vegas are being treated unfairly under the district's desegregation plan.

The group has called for west-side children to be bused shorter distances on buses supervised by adult monitors; provided with special-education classes in their neighborhood; and given access to playgrounds at 6th-grade centers that have been closed after school.

The group also wants the existing schools on the west side to be equipped with libraries accessible to the public after school hours and on weekends, and has asked for the construction of three elementary schools, one junior high school, and one new high school in the neighborhood.

In addition, WAAK-UP is advocating that one of the newly built schools have an Afrocentric theme and that all teachers in the district be provided with sensitivity training to help them work better with black students.

Conflicting Aims?

Last month, after WAAK-UP threatened a second boycott, the school board pledged to allow 1st through 3rd graders in West Las Vegas to attend neighborhood schools next year if they wish.

John K. Rhodes, a board member representing the west side, said he encouraged fellow board members to address the group's grievances in part because of his own memories of being bused out of West Las Vegas.

"It places a burden on you,'' he said. "You are really not well received a lot of times by the students in that particular neighborhood.''

In addition, the superintendent's Educational Opportunities Committee has drafted a framework for revisions to the desegregation plan calling for children up to 6th grade to be allowed eventually to attend neighborhood schools and for the district to do more to equalize the distribution of resources among schools.

District officials last week said the task of addressing WAAK-UP's concerns has been complicated, however, by a suit filed by the Las Vegas Alliance of Black School Educators. The complaint, now before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, alleges that the district has assigned some teachers and administrators in a way that makes schools racially identifiable.

"What the lawsuit would require, if the plaintiffs were successful, is a great deal of busing to achieve cultural diversity,'' Donald H. Haight, the district's lawyer, maintained in an interview last week. "What WAAK-UP wants is neighborhood schools. Those two positions are contradictory.''

When Clark County's busing plan was implemented two decades ago in response to a 1968 desegregation suit, more than 76 percent of the city's black residents lived in West Las Vegas. By the 1991-92 school year, fewer than a third of the county's black residents lived on the west side.

The federal judge who oversaw the the desegregation plan ended his supervision of the district in 1977.

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