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Racial 'Clustering' Practice Phased Out in Richmond Schools

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WASHINGTON--The Richmond school district violated federal law when it clustered white students in the same classrooms in two of its schools, the U.S. Education Department's office for civil rights has concluded.

The O.C.R. noted in a memorandum issued last month, however, that the district has taken steps to correct the violations and that the issue appears to be resolved.

"We identified the problem, one which placed a tremendous emotional burden on all, and then we took the necessary steps to solve the problem,'' Superintendent Lucille M. Brown said last month in response to the O.C.R.'s findings.

Observing that "this entire clustering episode resulted in the nation's spotlight taking direct aim at this city and its school system,'' Ms. Brown said, "now we can once again focus completely on our important mission of educating our students.''

The O.C.R. investigation was triggered by complaints, brought before the Richmond school board last fall, that white students were being clustered at two schools. The two--Bellevue and Ginter Park model elementary schools--were among 12 elementary schools with "open enrollment'' policies established to promote diversity in the 27,400-student district.

Title VI Violations

The O.C.R. compliance review found that the district violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 when it clustered white students in the same classrooms at Bellevue and Ginter Park. Title VI prohibits federally funded programs from discriminating on the basis of race.

The principal of Bellevue said white students, who accounted for 18 percent of the school's enrollment, were placed in the same classrooms out of concern for their emotional and social development as well as to protect them from feeling isolated.

The principal said it had long been the practice of Richmond administrators to group students in the same class when their race was in the minority.

Superintendent Brown denied, however, that the district had ever adopted such a policy or condoned such a practice.

At Ginter Park, the clustering of white children was found to be the result of a school policy of honoring parents' requests in placing students. (See Education Week, Jan. 13, 1993.)

Last spring, the district reassigned students in both schools in a racially neutral fashion and assured the O.C.R. that no further violations would occur.

Since implementing a voluntary desegregation plan in the early 1970's, the number of white students in the Richmond district has dropped from about 36 percent of its total enrollment to about 11 percent, the O.C.R. report said.

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