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Regional Desegregation Plans Submitted in Conn.

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School officials and town leaders throughout Connecticut have given the state its first glimpse of how they would reduce racial isolation in their schools.

Eleven regions created under a 1993 school-desegregation law submitted plans to state education officials last month, bringing the state closer to its goal of integrating schools from the bottom up.

Earlier this year, regional panels comprising school board members, teachers, parents, and chief elected officials began devising the voluntary-desegregation plans, as called for in the bill. (See Education Week, May 25, 1994.)

The regions--drawn to both reflect diversity and include a range of urban, rural, and suburban districts--were asked to assemble a variety of options for insuring that white and minority students have equal educational opportunities.

Most of the plans recommended magnet schools, teacher and administrator exchanges, and multicultural curricula, state officials said. None, however, suggested any mandatory movement of students.

"These steps can be taken on a region's own terms," remarked Thomas W. Murphy, a spokesman for the state education department. "It is quite the reverse of other top-down solutions that haven't worked well in the past."

Connecticut appears to be the first state to tackle school desegregation starting at the local level, without a court mandate or state order.

The state, however, is still awaiting the outcome of Sheff v. O'Neill, a school-desegregationlawsuit in Hartford in which African-American residents claim the state has failed to prevent widespread racial separation between urban and suburban schools.

The outcome of the case, which inspired the 1993 law, could have implications for all districts.

'No Quotas, No Busing'

The regional proposals have drawn positive reviews from state education officials and from Gov. Lowell P. Weicker Jr., an ardent supporter of the voluntary-desegregation bill. Mr. Weicker has urged local school leaders and politicians to throw their support behind the plans.

Theodore S. Sergi, the acting commissioner of education, said last month that the efforts represent "greater prospects for locally owned, lasting change."

The commissioner has returned comments on the plans to each region, which must hold a public hearing on the issues this month, Mr. Murphy added.

Anita Mackey, a member of the Fairfield school board who is on the panel that represents the city of Bridgeport and surrounding towns, said she believed most local officials would buy into their plan.

The panel called for science and vocational magnet programs, greater cooperation in recruiting minority educators in the region, and insuring that diversity issues are addressed in the curriculum, among other recommendations.

"I would think that people would want a voluntary plan," Ms. Mackey said. "There are no quotas, no busing, no forcing anyone to do anything they don't want to do."

"We have a court case hanging over us [and] the outcome could be a lot less pleasant," she added.

Next Steps

All school boards and local legislative bodies are expected to vote on the recommendations by mid-December.

A majority of the participating towns must endorse the plans. The towns voting yes also must together represent a majority of the population in the region, Mr. Murphy pointed out.

If the plans are approved, they are scheduled to be in place by 1996. However, many regions have not yet endorsed any specific plans.

In February, the commissioner is expected to report to the legislature on the regions' progress and make funding recommendations.

State officials have set aside about $77 million for the plans in the 1995-96 education budget. Of that, $50 million would be earmarked for magnet schools or other regional proposals, and the remainder would be used for competitive grants.

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