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S.F. Desegregation Plan Hurts Chinese Students, Suit Says

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The San Francisco school district's 11-year-old desegregation plan discriminates against students of Chinese descent, Chinese-American parents have charged in a federal lawsuit.

The suit, filed last month in U.S. District Court, targets admissions policies established under a 1983 agreement between the school system and the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

The policies prohibit schools from enrolling more than a certain percentage of children from any one racial or ethnic group. Those caps have kept some Chinese-origin students out of a prestigious public high school and forced others to attend schools far from their homes, the suit alleges.

"You can desegregate the schools and not discriminate against the Chinese students at the same time,'' said Roland A. Quan, a leading member of the Chinese-American Democratic Club, which is backing the suit. "People are just too lazy to come up with creative solutions.''

The new suit follows a separate effort by a local organization called Multicultural Education, Training, and Advocacy to intervene in the desegregation case. The group contends that Asian and Hispanic children have not been well served by the district's implementation of the consent decree, especially if they speak a language other than English at home. (See Education Week, Feb. 17, 1993.)

U.S. District Judge William H. Orrick last year denied the organization's request to intervene, arguing that the interests of such children are adequately represented by the San Francisco N.A.A.C.P. The multicultural-advocacy group has appealed his ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, where a decision is pending.

Double Standard Alleged

The 1983 consent decree, which still governs most of the district's desegregation efforts, places each student in one of nine racial or ethnic groups. At least four such groups must be represented in each school, but no group is to account for more than 45 percent of any regular school's enrollment or more than 40 percent of an alternative school's students.

Complying with the consent decree has proved increasingly difficult as demographic changes have eroded the district's black population while increasing its Hispanic and Asian-American enrollments.

The Chinese parents' suit is especially critical of the steps the district has taken to stay in compliance at Lowell High School, a highly regarded alternative school that admits students based on academic performance.

To keep Lowell's Chinese-American enrollment below 40 percent, the school holds applicants of Chinese descent to stricter standards, requiring them to score much higher than other students on an admissions test, the suit alleges. Chinese-Americans make up a quarter of the district's enrollment.

Last spring, the suit claims, Lowell High changed the way applicants are tested "for the purpose of reducing the average score of applicants of Chinese descent.''

Elsewhere in the district, the school system "severely restricts'' the ability of students of Chinese origin to attend the schools of their choice or those near their homes, the suit claims.

There is little legal justification for such race-based treatment of students, the suit argues, since the district has "has not operated segregated schools for at least the past 10 years'' and had eliminated any vestiges of segregation before then.

District Denies Charges

The district does not discriminate against children of Chinese descent because students from other groups are subject to the same enrollment limits at individual schools, said Aubrey V. McCutcheon Jr., a lawyer representing the district in the case.

"There are just as many Latin and African-American students who are on waiting lists for various schools as there are Chinese students,'' Mr. McCutcheon said.

Thomas I. Atkins, a lawyer for the San Francisco chapter of the N.A.A.C.P., argued that the suit should be dismissed and that his group should remain the legal representative of children of Chinese descent. The other groups were given an opportunity to speak out during the consent decree's development and failed to do so, he said.

"The issues of racial or ethnic segregation are no different where it relates to Chinese students than as it relates to whites or blacks or anyone else,'' Mr. Atkins said.

"Chinese students,'' he said, "will not be permitted to be present in numbers that will cause the racial or ethnic segregation of students.''

A lawyer for the California education department, which provides San Francisco with more than $25 million a year to pay for implementing the consent decree, said he also would seek to have the new suit dismissed.

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