Negotiations May Clear Way for Boston Judge To Step Aside

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Copyright 1982 Lawyers representing Boston's school administrators in a 10-year-old desegregation case are preparing the first draft of what could be a legal settlement that would terminate the federal court's role in Boston's public schools if agreed to by all parties involved.

The court's "disengagement" and the process that is underway for achieving it is without precedent, according to the lawyers preparing the draft.

Provide Model

If it is successful, they believe, it could provide the model for other major school systems operating under federal-court desegregation orders.

The consent decree--which would have to be approved by U.S. District Judge W. Arthur Garrity Jr.--would not mean the end of desegregation in the city's schools, but instead would be a legally binding blueprint for future compliance with the judge's orders. And it would permit the judge to end his unusually intimate involvement in the day-to-day operations and finances of the schools, an involvement that has long been an irritant to local politicians, citizens, and school-committee members.

But the lawyer who is "coordinat-ing" the unusual process and lawyers representing the primary parties are unwilling to predict success. They point out that there are as many as 15 parties--parents, teachers, minority groups, city and school officials--negotiating the terms of the legal document and the highly complex issues it must address.

Robert H. Bohn, a Boston attorney who has been volunteering his time for the last six months to coordinate the consent decree, said the deadline agreed to by all parties for a first draft of the document is Feb. 1. That draft will be the focus of a second phase of negotiations, which is to produce the final court decree.

The major issues in those negotiations--issues that the first draft will offer proposed resolutions to--include: the future assignment of students; long-term planning for school facilities, renovation, and new construction; desegregation of teachers and staff; federally and state-mandated occupational, bilingual, and special-education programs; parental and community participation in the city's schools; and pairing of the schools with businesses and cultural institutions.

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

Since that time, school officials and other interest groups "have been engaged in implementing over 240 remedial orders designed to correct the constitutional violations found by the court," according to Mr. Bohn.

Changes Ordered

Judge Garrity ordered changes, for example, in the staffing pattern of the school system, to require that the number of black teachers not fall below 19 percent of the total number. As a result of that ruling, many white teachers lost their jobs in September 1981 because of the schools' financial problems while black colleagues with less seniority continued to teach.

Lawyers for the Boston Teachers Union argued in a federal appeals court last month that the judge's order itself was unfairly discriminatory. To date, the court has not ruled on the matter.

Although Judge Garrity continues to play a significant role in the school system's administrative decisions, he announced in June 1981 that he wanted to take the federal court out of the "school-administration business" before the end of this year. His announcement was followed by informal discussions among lawyers for the black plain-tiffs, the school committee, and other interested parties who over the years have joined in the case. The other parties include the state school board, a group of Hispanic citizens, the Boston Teachers Union, the Concerned Black Educators of Boston, Boston Mayor Kevin H. White, a parent advisory group, and the Boston Home and School Association.

The early discussions, according to Mr. Bohn, were an attempt to see "if all or any of the issues can be resolved through a single document where all parties agree" and which cannot be overturned on appeal at a later date.

"It's a very important process, without legal precedent, that's underway here," Mr. Bohn said. However, given the number of parties involved and the various interests they represent, "I don't think anyone expects a consent decree on all the areas," he said.

'Working Papers'

Henry C. Dinger, one of the lawyers for the school committee, said he expects some issues will be easier to resolve than others and that the draft being prepared can only be interpreted as "working papers" for further formal negotiations.

"I don't know of any major desegregation case that has had the bulk of issues settled as we are attempting to do," Mr. Dinger said. "We're groping our way around. But our sense is to do it right rather than to be the first ones on the block with a consent decree."

While school officials are anxious to end the court's direct involvement in the system, the timing of Judge Garrity's decision has been questioned by Larry J. Johnson, attorney for the black parents who filed suit in 1972. "It's been a continuous struggle to get the schools to comply with the court orders," he said.

"The court finds itself with many orders still undone and some still need to be adjusted. In general, we think it [Judge Garrity's announcement] is premature," Mr. Johnson said. "We do not think there's sufficient evidence that [system administrators] are beyond the past practice of discrimination in their assignment and treatment of black students."

And, Mr. Johnson said, "If it's a choice between all or none," his clients would settle for Judge Garrity's approach.

Vol. 01, Issue 17

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