Education

Spillane Publicly Airs Criticism Of Boston Judge’s Busing Order

By Susan G. Foster — June 16, 1982 4 min read
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In private, Boston’s public school superintendent, Robert R. Spillane, has made no secret of the fact that he would like U.S. District Judge W. Arthur Garrity Jr. to curtail his involvement in the administration of the city’s schools.

But now, Mr. Spillane is publicly declaring his dissatisfaction with court-ordered desegregation, saying that it is not working and should be replaced with an approach that will work. “There’s just no question that [the city’s public schools] are more segregated than before,” Mr. Spillane said during an interview last week.

“I was trying, in the past, to work cooperatively with the judge, but I think now he needs a nudge,” Mr. Spillane said of his decision to air publicly his views on the school system’s desegregation efforts. “The judge says he wants out, but we’re getting mixed signals.”

During the nine months he has served as the city’s superintendent, Mr. Spillane said, Judge Garrity has “frustrated our attempts to help him get out of the case.”

Mr. Spillane’s current source of irritation is Judge Garrity’s recent comments on the 40-page “working papers” that attorneys representing the school committee spent nearly a year preparing and that some have interpreted as meaning a rejection of the plan. The document would have paved the way for a legal settlement in the eight-year-old desegregation case and eventually terminated the court’s role in the city’s public schools. (See Education Week, Jan. 19, 1982.)

After reviewing the working papers, according to Mr. Spillane, Judge Garrity indicated that the final “consent decree” should reflect some 400 individual orders that he has issued throughout his involvement in the case.

“If the judge wants a consent decree in the form of an indexed order, he should hire a law clerk and put him to work to do it,” Mr. Spillane said.

The only issue to be resolved “is who should be managing and running the school system,” Mr. Spillane asserted. “He’s got to give us the flexibility to do it our way. [The Judge] has been here for eight years and the results speak for themselves.”

‘Fine Tuning’ the Document

Robert H. Bohn, a Boston attorney who has been coordinating the consent decree, explained that the school committee’s working paper has never been formally submitted to the court and that attorneys representing the various parties in the case are currently continuing the negotiations and are “fine tuning” the document.

So far, according to Mr. Bohn, Judge Garrity has only acknowledged receiving the draft and has commented that any proposed changes in his existing court orders be “explicitly” outlined.

“That has been interpreted as a rejection of the plan,” Mr. Bohn added. “But it was never intended to be acted upon by the judge.”

The Boston Public Schools have been under the partial control of Judge Garrity since 1974--two years after 14 black parents filed suit against the Boston School Committee charging that black students in the city’s public schools were not provided with the same educational opportunities as other students.

Since then, school officials and other special-interest groups have joined as parties in the suit and in implementing the court’s remedial orders. One such order requires, for example, that the number of black teachers in the school system not fall below 19 percent of the total number of teachers.

Prior to Judge Garrity’s comments on the school committee’s proposal, however, negotiations toward a consent decree seemed to have collapsed. In February, Larry J. Johnson, the attorney for the black plaintiffs, announced his withdrawal from the negotiating process, saying that he would work with his clients to draft an alternative plan to submit to the court. The alternative plan would address, among other things, the issue of student assignment. Mr. Johnson, who was critical of Judge Garrity’s decision to initiate the court’s removal from the start, has pushed for greater choice by parents in deciding which schools their children will attend.

Mr. Johnson’s decision to withdraw, however, concerned the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which petitioned and was permitted to intervene in the case on behalf of the black plaintiffs.

Referring to the current lack of parental choice in student assignment, Mr. Spillane said he is not totally opposed to open enrollment if certain “parameters” are established. “We may disagree on the details, but I agree more with the black plaintiffs than I do with the judge,” Mr. Spillane said.

Citing the time spent by the school system’s attorneys and the expense, Mr. Spillane said that he would like to make a recommendation to the school committee that they too withdraw from the consent decree process. But so far, he has not made such a recommendation.

Despite Mr. Spillane’s desire to withdraw from the negotiations, Mr. Bohn said that “there has been absolutely no change on the part of the lawyers” who are currently involved in the consent-decree process. “The process has survived what the critics have been saying about it.”

A version of this article appeared in the June 16, 1982 edition of Education Week as Spillane Publicly Airs Criticism Of Boston Judge’s Busing Order


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