Minn. Board Considers Relaxing Policy on Racial Balance

By Peter Schmidt — September 30, 1992 4 min read

The Minnesota state board of education last week was considering a plan to give cities more leeway and suburbs more responsibility in keeping schools integrated.

The proposal, a draft of which was being reviewed late last week by a board subcommittee, would abolish a 19-year-old rule requiring that the minority enrollment in any school be no more than 15 percent above the districtwide average.

Instead, the state would require that individual plans to maintain integration be submitted by large cities, their surrounding suburbs, and other districts with rapidly growing minority populations.

Alan T. Zdon, a member of the board, last week called the proposed changes “a major shift in how the state is looking at quality education for students of color.’'

“What we had before was a mathematical formula,’' Mr. Zdon said. “At some point, that mathematical formula ceases to make sense.’'

The proposed rules would give the large urban districts of Duluth, Minneapolis, and St. Paul, where minority populations have grown substantially since the 15 percent rule went into effect, more freedom to establish new educational programs even if they caused some racial imbalance.

The plan also would expand responsibility for integration well beyond the state’s three major cities. Other school districts, which have largely escaped enforcement of the existing rule, would have to provide integration plans if any individual school’s minority population exceeded the district average by 15 percent.

Plans also would have to be submitted by all districts in which the minority enrollment exceeded 10 percent of the total and was projected to grow by more than 50 percent over three years.

In addition, all districts in the seven-county metropolitan area surrounding Minneapolis and St. Paul would be required to submit integration plans developed in consultation with the Twin Cities.

District Plans, State Monitors

Mr. Zdon, who serves as chairman of the state board’s committee in charge of developing integration policy, said he expects to submit a final draft of the plan next month.

As proposed last week, the rule changes would give Duluth, the Twin Cities, and the seven-county suburban districts two years to submit their integration plans; other districts would have three years.

Lorie J. Schulstad, who monitors district compliance with antidiscrimination laws for the state education department, said the department would review all district plans, rejecting those that appear to disproportionately affect a specific group of students.

The department also would monitor the compliance of districts with their own plans and order corrective actions if necessary, she said.

Instead of defining segregation in statistical terms, the proposed changes in the state rule define segregation as “intentional or unintentional separation’’ of minority students or staff within a school or district.

Mr. Zdon said he favors relaxing the state’s racial-balance requirements because “it has never been proven, to me anyway, that simply desegregating provides quality education for all of the kids.’'

The proposed changes, he said, were drafted in response to requests by community groups that their districts be allowed to cut back on busing for racial balance and return to having more neighborhood schools.
‘We are allowing the districts to be creative, and to use parents’ and citizens’ groups and teachers and students to work together’’ on their integration plans, Mr. Zdon said.

Ms. Schulstad said the proposed changes in the state rules were subject to significant revisions after the state begins to solicit comment from civil-rights groups and the public.

Duluth, Twin Cities Cool

The current version of the proposal appears unlikely to win the endorsement of the three districts that would be affected most by it.

Ronald J. Soberg, a spokesman for the Duluth schools, said officials there were concerned about the vagueness of the proposed rules for measuring district compliance.

“It is one thing for the state board to be a lot more flexible, but it does not necessarily protect the districts themselves from some future litigation,’' said Mr. Soberg, whose district has turned three schools into magnets to bring them into compliance with the 15 percent rule.

In St. Paul, the superintendent, Curman L. Gaines, was co-chairman of a state board committee that two years ago criticized the 15 percent rule and called for changes.

But Cheryl R. Marty, a spokeswoman for the district, said Mr. Gaines was uneasy with the prospect of removing the 15 percent rule without replacing it with clear guidelines.

Carol R. Johnson, the associate superintendent for school organization and planning in Minneapolis, said her district was developing a new long-term integration plan and would like to be allowed additional time to forward public comment to the state.

A version of this article appeared in the September 30, 1992 edition of Education Week as Minn. Board Considers Relaxing Policy on Racial Balance