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Boston High School Reopens Following Racial Disturbance

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Classes resumed peacefully last week at a Boston high school after a racially motivated rock- and bottle-throwing melee May 6 prompted a student's arrest and forced the one-day closure of the school.

The school, South Boston High School, attracted national attention in 1974 when it was wracked by riots in the wake of court-ordered busing that brought black students into its predominantly white neighborhood.

The turmoil this month--in which five people, including Mayor Raymond L. Flynn, suffered minor injuries--occurred shortly after mediated discussions among students broke down following a shouted racial remark, officials said.

About 40 white students then walked out of the school.

Officials staggered the return of students to the campus over three days last week, with seniors arriving on Monday, juniors on Tuesday, and the rest of the 923 students on Wednesday.

Attendance was down on Monday from the usual 80 percent to 66.5 percent, according to Michael Fung, the zone superintendent for high schools. Only 37 of 63 black seniors came to school that day.

Attendance improved on Tuesday and Wednesday to near-normal levels among all races, Mr. Fung said.

The discussions preceding the May 6 incident addressed allegations that minority-group students carried weapons to school.

The melee, which occurred just outside the school building, involved as many as 200 people--most of them students but also some white adults. It lasted about 10 minutes, officials said.

City Leaders on Campus

Superintendent Lois Harrison-Jones, Police Commissioner Francis Roache, and Mayor Flynn were all on campus trying to facilitate the student negotiations that preceded the fight.

The presence of Mr. Flynn and the lack of preventive action by the police commissioner drew sharp criticism from the president of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Louis Elisa.

He said Mr. Flynn was interfering with school matters and usurping the authority of the superintendent.

The enrollment at the school is 37 percent black, 28 percent white, 24 percent Hispanic, and 12 percent Asian. Many of the minority-group students live outside the South Boston neighborhood in such areas of the city as Roxbury and Dorchester.

Several officials said the situation was not nearly as tense as in the mid-70's, in part because of the end of forced busing. Under the district's "controlled choice'' desegregation plan, Ms. Harrison-Jones noted, students can select from a group of schools provided their presence would not upset racial-balance guidelines.

"It doesn't compare on any levels to 1974,'' said William P. Doherty, the executive director of the city's youth-service agency, who graduated from South Boston High and later worked in the school at the time of the 1974 riots.

This school year there have been no student suspensions for the use of racial slurs at South Boston High, Mr. Fung said.

He added that he was optimistic about the school's future. "If they just let faculty and students work it out, everything will be okay,'' he said.

Concern Over 'Outsiders'

The disturbance apparently stemmed from recently rekindled racial tension in the community.

Several days before the May 6 incident, residents at a community meeting reportedly used derogatory racial remarks in relating their concern over "outsiders'' bringing crime and weapons into South Boston.

After the school fracas, police arrested three white men, two in their early 20's and one 16-year-old South Boston High student, according to Vincent Loporchio, a police spokesman. The older men were charged with assault and battery for attacking a police officer; the student was charged with destruction of property after he threw a bottle at a police car, Mr. Loporchio said.

More arrests came last week as school reopened when a group of nonstudents gathered across from the school and refused to move. Five people were charged with disturbing the peace, Mr. Loporchio said.

Over the weekend after the May 6 incident and the one-day closure, an anti-black slur was painted on the side of the school building but was immediately removed, Mr. Fung said.

When school reopened, security measures were stepped up to allay parents' fears, Ms. Harrison-Jones said.

She said this was done despite the fact that only one firearm has been found in the building this school year, in October.

Still, about six extra plainclothes security guards patrolled inside the school, and about two to three dozen uniformed police stood by outside.

Students and others entering the school were searched with hand-held metal detectors last week following a weekend search of lockers.

No weapons have been found, Ms. Harrison-Jones said.

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