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Ind. Officials Clash Over New Desegregation Plan

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The superintendent of the Indianapolis school district has stirred up a hornet's nest by moving forward with a student-desegregation plan that has yet to be approved by a federal district judge.

The district as of last week had spent about $1.5 million for advertising and other activities related to its "Select Schools'' plan, which must be accepted by U.S. District Judge S. Hugh Dillin.

Those moves have prompted the following reactions:

  • Donald Payton, a member of the Indianapolis school board, has said the superintendent, Shirl E. Gilbert 2d, should be fired if the plan is rejected.
  • Brice A. Tressler, the president of the Indianapolis Education Association, last week said Mr. Gilbert's efforts to implement the plan in the coming school year have left the district "in total turmoil.''
  • Lawyers for black students who have intervened in the case to maintain the existing student-assignment plan this month asked the judge to hold the district in contempt for moving ahead with the new plan.

Mr. Gilbert last week defended his actions, noting that the district is only promoting, and not implementing, the plan, which would allow parents to pick their children's school if space is available and if the choice does not upset racial-balance guidelines set in a 1981 court order.

He said he is confident it will win the favor of the judge, who is expected to discuss it during a hearing this week.

Majority Support

Four of the board's seven members continue to fully support the superintendent's efforts.

"I realize we are taking a chance, but, according to our attorneys in Washington, D.C., and locally, we have followed all of the judge's guidelines,'' said Richard W. Guthrie, the board's president.

The U.S. Justice Department, the main plaintiff in the desegregation case, has not objected to the Select Schools plan or the district's promotional activities.

In another sign of support, last week a member of the city council, a leader of the local chamber of commerce, and members of a local group of clergymen appeared at a school board meeting to voice support for Mr. Gilbert's efforts.

Mr. Payton is alone on the board in arguing that Mr. Gilbert should be fired if the court rejects the plan or does not reach a decision on it by March 26, the board's own deadline for implementing a new plan for the coming school year.

A second board member, Thomas L. Brown, has called the superintendent's promotion of the plan "illegal'' and "irresponsible'' but has stopped short of calling for his ouster.

Like Mr. Brown, Hazel Stewart, another board member, has argued that the district is implementing the plan too quickly and should give itself more time to build support for the effort.

Nevertheless, she said last week that the superintendent was "just carrying out the wishes of the board,'' which last fall voted to move ahead with the promotional campaign.

Informed Decisionmaking

Mr. Gilbert said he decided to begin telling parents about their options under the controlled-choice plan so they could make informed decisions if it is approved in time to be implemented this coming fall.

The district, at his direction, has begun training teachers and has bought advertisements, sent mailings, held fairs, and established "parent information centers.''

Since Jan. 11, Mr. Gilbert said, the parents of about 10,000, or one-fifth, of the district's students have sent in applications listing their choice of schools.

The Select Schools plan, however, has draw fire from various quarters since its was approved by the board in February 1992. (See Education Week, March 11, 1992.)

Mr. Tressler of the I.E.A. last week said that Mr. Gilbert is trying to implement the plan too quickly and has left the district's teachers and principals feeling rushed and overworked.

In addition, A. D. Pinckney, the president of the Greater Indianapolis branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, last week said the plan contained features that would perpetuate segregation, including the establishment of a zone that is disproportionately black and poor.

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