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One of New York City's neighborhood school districts has eliminated its attendance zones for junior-high schools and will require incoming seventh graders to choose which schools they will attend in September.

Anthony Alvarado, superintendent of Community School District No. 4 in East Harlem, believes that the plan will improve the schools by forcing them to compete.

"If a school isn't good enough, it won't attract students," Mr. Alvarado said. "Students should not be forced to go to a school that they and their parents do not think is as good as other schools."

About half of the district's 3,000 junior-high students are in neighborhood schools; the rest attend a variety of alternative schools stressing performing arts, science, and other subjects. At least one of the district's schools might be unable to draw enough students to survive, Mr. Alvarado said.

Predictably, many employees are nervous about the plan, which could be logistically complicated and may result in reassignments of teachers and other staff members.

But students reportedly are pleased with their new options. So unaccustomed are they to making choices about their schooling that the district has added a new course for sixth graders--a class in decision-making.

Bowing to a federal judge's order, the Denver school board last week voted 6 to 1 to develop a desegregation plan that includes both mandatory busing and magnet schools.

The board's action came only three days after U.S. District Judge Richard P. Matsch had rejected the board's open-enrollment proposal, known as the "Total Access Plan," as "an exercise in escapism."

The board directed school administrators to draft a new plan that would combine the magnet-school concepts of the "Total Access" proposal with mandatory busing elements of a so-called "consensus plan" that had been developed last fall by an ad hoc committee of the board. The latter proposal would reduce the number of Denver's 60,000 pupils who are bused for desegregation purposes from 15,000 to about 12,200.

In his order, which was issued after more than two weeks of a formal hearing, Judge Matsch had given the board 30 days to develop an acceptable desegregation plan. He has been trying since 1979 to get the school board to agree on a plan that would allow him to close out Keyes v. School District No. 1, the city's 13-year-old desegregation suit.

At least one member of the school board has mentioned the possibility of appealing Judge Matsch's order, but an appeal is considered unlikely at this time.

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