Reynolds Asserts the End of Mandatory Busing Is Near

By Tom Mirga — September 19, 1984 5 min read

Washington--The Reagan Administration’s chief civil-rights official predicted last week that “it is just a matter of time, and not much time at that,” before all communities will be allowed to accomplish the desegregation of schools without mandatory busing.

In addition, William Bradford Reynolds, the assistant attorney general for civil rights, said during a conference in New York to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education that perhaps the most important issue in school desegregation for the 1980’s will be when, and under what circumstances, federal district judges should relinquish their jurisdiction in school-desegregation cases.

Judicial Activism Rapped

“It is time for the federal courts to release their hold on school districts that have long been in compliance with comprehensive desegregation decrees,” Mr. Reynolds said in a prepared statement that was released here. “Our public schools far better serve the educational needs of our youth if run by those who are answerable to the electorate for the decisions made, than if left under the supervision of the judiciary beyond the time necessary to cure fully the constitutional violation.”

In July, the Justice Department’s civil-rights division under Mr. Reynolds filed papers with a federal district court in Denver supporting that city school board’s motion seeking fully desegregated, or “unitary,” status and an end to 11 years of court-ordered busing. (See Education Week, Aug. 22, 1984.)

The board has asked U.S. District Judge Richard P. Matsch three times since 1981 to end his jurisdic-tion in the case, Keyes v. School District No. 1. Judge Matsch is expected to rule on the school board’s latest motion at any time.

Measures of Compliance

Referring to the department’s friend-of-the-court brief in the Denver case, Mr. Reynolds said that courts should measure school districts’ compliance with desegregation orders “not in terms of rigid racial percentages or the degree of racial balance throughout the school system, but rather in terms of the school board’s full and faithful compliance with the desegregation requirements imposed by the decree.”

“In the name of desegregation, we have in many instances surrendered to the courts the day-to-day responsibility of operating our public schools--all too often with disappointing results,” he continued. “I therefore anticipate that the unitariness issue will begin to be joined with greater intensity in the months ahead.”

Education ‘Destroyed’

Turning back to the issue of busing, Mr. Reynolds said that judicial preoccupation with the subject has “effectively destroyed or seriously hindered the educational potential of an entire generation of public-school students.”

“Now, 30 years after Brown, the country appears to have altered its course and returned to the ideals reflected in the Brown decisions--where equal education, not transportation, is the predominant theme,” he continued.

Mr. Reynolds also defended the Administration’s pursuit of voluntary desegregation remedies that focus on magnet schools and educational improvements in minority schools that are likely to remain racially isolated.

“It is a bit too early to declare the magnet program a complete desegregation success,” he said. “There are, however, a number of encouraging indicators and very few discouraging ones.”

In other desegregation-related developments around the nation:

Houston. Representatives of two national civil-rights groups recently signed an agreement with the Houston public schools to bring to an end a 28-year-old school-desegregation suit.

The settlement, which would be in effect for five years and must be approved by a federal district judge before taking effect, requires the school district to adopt a vigorous affirmative-action hiring program and to ensure a 60-percent-to-40-percent ratio of minority to white students in two inner-city magnet schools. The 117,500-student district has a total student enrollment that is 42 percent black, 35 percent Hispanic, 20 percent white, and 3 percent Southeast Asian.

In addition, an unusual provision in the agreement commits the district to “affirmatively take steps ... toward the goal of having the students achieving at or above local or state standards or national norms” on a number of standardized examinations.

Phoenix. Civil-rights officials in the Education Department’s San Francisco branch recently approved a desegregation plan for the Phoenix Union (Ariz.) High School District.

According to John M. Baracy, deputy superintendent of the 19,000-student school district, the main feature of the plan involves the transformation of two predominantly minority high schools into magnet schools for performing arts and computer science.

It also requires the district to continue its six-month-old policy of prohibiting students from transferring to outlying, predominantly white, school districts or to other schools within the Phoenix district.

Approval of the plan, which is scheduled to go into effect in September 1985 at a cost the first year of $1.2 million, capped a five-year investigation of the district’s enrollment policies by the civil-rights office.

St. Paul. Minnesota’s commissioner of education, Ruth Randall, recently approved a desegregation plan for the St. Paul public schools that calls for the creation of four elementary-level magnet schools in the 1985-86 school year.

According to Teresa Mardenborough, urban-affairs assistant to Superintendent George Young, changes in the district’s existing desegregation plan became necessary after it was discovered that student enrollment in one of the school system’s junior high schools was in violation of state desegregation rules.

Under those regulations, a school is determined to be segregated if the racial composition does not reflect, within 15 percentage points, the racial composition of the district as a whole. In the 1983-84 school year, the 31,000-student district had an enrollment that was 68 percent white and 32 percent minority.

A version of this article appeared in the September 19, 1984 edition of Education Week as Reynolds Asserts the End of Mandatory Busing Is Near