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N.Y. Not Liable for Desegregation Costs in Yonkers

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New York State did not actively encourage racial segregation in the Yonkers public schools and therefore bears no financial responsibility for remedying the problem, a federal judge ruled last week.

Judge Leonard B. Sand of U.S. District Court scolded state officials, however, for tolerating the racial segregation that has occurred in the Yonkers schools.

Nevertheless, the judge said, the district and the minority plaintiffs in the long-running desegregation case had failed to show that the state took any actions to keep black and white children separate in the Yonkers schools.

Citing a 1978 ruling by a federal court in a similar case involving the Buffalo school system, the judge said precedent holds that the state's failure to try to stop racial segregation does not legally implicate it as a participant. Accordingly, he denied a joint request by the school district and the plaintiffs to name the state as a defendant and thus hold it financially liable for helping pay for the district's desegregation efforts.

"Naturally, we are extremely disappointed in the decision of the judge," Richard J. Monaco, a schools spokesman said last week.

Officials of the group that brought the desegregation suit, the Yonkers branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, could not be reached last week for comment. The state education department declined to comment.

New Programs Threatened

Lawrence W. Thomas, the school district's lawyer, said the Yonkers school board likely will have to scale back its desegregation efforts and expect the process to take longer, now that it can no longer count on state money for the remedies the judge previously had ordered.

"The district was looking to the state for considerable resources for providing the comprehensive remedy that Judge Sand had been seeking," Mr. Thomas said.

The 21,800-student district had been planning to put expensive new programs in place designed to help its black and Hispanic students--who make up 29 percent and 39 percent of its enrollment, respectively--in their efforts to close the achievement gap.

In trying to bring the state into the case, the district was seeking $140 million in state aid for guidance counselors, remedial education, and other programs. Judge Sand still has not determined which programs must be implemented and how much should be spent on them.

Mr. Thomas said the district cannot count on the city of Yonkers, which is in financial trouble, to provide more money to cushion the impact of the judge's decision.

In his decision, Judge Sand wrote that he found "entirely unpersuasive the argument of the state that it lacked knowledge of the nature, cause, and extent of the segregation in the Yonkers public schools" from the 1960's until the mid-1980's.

The state had the means to deal with the problem, but it chose not to act, the judge said. It stayed idle "because of political and other pressures, from within the board of regents and from without, which opposed vigorous desegregation efforts," the judge said.

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