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Parents Seek To Allow Children To Transfer Out of Akron District

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White parents in Akron, Ohio, have filed a court challenge to allow their children to change school districts under the state's open-enrollment law.

Calling themselves the Equal Open Enrollment Association, 13 families filed a motion last week in U.S. District Court seeking a preliminary injunction against the school board.

The parents charge that the Akron school district has unfairly applied a "racial balance" exception to the open-enrollment law by prohibiting white students from transferring out of the 32,000-student system and into other districts.

The racial-balance exception, the parents argue, was meant to apply to transfers of individual students, not to groups.

The district's policy "is an absolute blanket prohibition against white-student transfers without regard to actual demographics either in the student's home school or in the district at the time," says the parents' motion. "In reality, the policy is an effort by Akron to mandate a particular racial mix."

Maintaining Balance

Ohio's open-enrollment law took effect in 1993. It includes a provision allowing districts to deny a student's transfer in order to maintain a racial balance. Akron took the policy a step further and established its no-transfer policy for white students beginning last fall.

Superintendent Brian G. Williams defended the district's policy in an interview last week. He said the two-year experiment with open enrollment had an "unacceptable" effect on the racial balance in the city's schools.

The school system lost nearly 1,100 students, almost all of whom were white, to smaller neighboring districts during the unlimited open-enrollment period, Mr. Williams said.

Those moves created a more rapid increase in the district's proportion of minority students, Mr. Williams said, resulting in an average increase of 2 percent a year during that open-enrollment period, compared with a previous average increase of 0.5 percent a year.

The school system currently is 47 percent minority.

"We could foresee that, if this trend continued, and we were losing that percent of our white population per year, pretty soon we would become no longer representative of the population of Akron," Mr. Williams said. "We think that it's very important that our courts help us retain the racial integrity of our school systems."

In 1994, a judge upheld the Springfield, Ohio, district's decision to bar some students from enrolling in neighboring schools on the grounds that it would result in a racial imbalance.

Akron parents argue that the Springfield case is different because that city was under a desegregation order at the time.

Lawyers for the Akron district are preparing a response to the request for the injunction.

The plaintiffs are hoping for a decision before the beginning of the 1996-97 school year, a spokesman for the parents' group said.

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