Boston Judge Withdraws From Case, Returns Local Control After 11 Years

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A federal district judge relinquished control over the Boston public schools last week, more than a decade after ordering perhaps the most controversial school-desegregation plan in the nation's history.

U.S. District Judge W. Arthur Garrity Jr.'s final orders in the lawsuit, which were handed down on Sept. 3, marked the end of an era for the city's schools--one that began with race riots and massive resistance to crosstown busing and ended, coincidentally, with the city's first black school superintendent's first day on the job.

Judge Garrity's withdrawal from the case, Morgan v. Nucci, also marked the return of full control over the district's affairs to local officials for the first time in 11 years. During that period, the federal judge issued more than 400 orders governing aspects of school operations ranging from the hiring of teachers to the purchase of supplies.

In his final orders, the judge permanently enjoined the Boston School Committee from discriminating on the basis of race in the operation of its schools. He also established a framework for the modification of his previous orders, set guidelines for student and faculty desegregation, and approved a plan for school repair and maintenance.

Orders Well Received

"There were many, many things that the [civil-rights groups], the state, the school committee, and the parents wanted to see addressed in the final orders," noted Jack E. Robinson, president of the Boston chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which represented the black parents who brought the suit.

"Nobody got all of the things that they wanted, but everybody got most of the things they needed to ensure that the schools do not return to a segregated status," he continued. "We're pleased with the direction that the school department is moving in, and we're pleased that the schools are being returned to the hands of professional educators.''

Boston school officials also reacted warmly to Judge Garrity's final actions in the case.

"I am honored and proud to be president of the school committee that earned the trust of the federal court," said John Nucci, "but I feel quite squarely a burden to never, ever return to a situation where students are denied quality education because of their race."

Laval S. Wilson, the district's new superintendent, called the day "historic," adding that the district "will continue to uphold the spirit of the court order."

According to school and civil-rights officials, the major topics addressed in the judge's final orders included:

  • Student assignments. Beginning with the 1986-87 school year, the school committee and the superintendent must assign students in such a way that the racial composition of each school reflects within 25 percentage points the racial composition of the city's public-school population as of April 1 of the previous school year. Excluded from this guideline are students enrolled in bilingual-education programs and "special-needs" students.
  • Parents' councils. Judge Garrity ordered the school committee "to promote" parents' councils established by earlier court orders and to fund them for a minimum of three years. Plaintiffs in the lawsuit had urged the judge to order permanent funding for the groups.
  • Faculty and staff. Under the order, the district must ensure that its faculty and administrative staff are at least 25 percent black. An additional 10 percent of the workforce must be composed of members of other minority groups.
  • To achieve these goals, the percentage of blacks in the district's workforce is to be raised by a minimum of 0.5 percent annually and the percentage of other minorities by 0.25 percent annually.

  • Modification of existing orders. Under the procedure established by the judge, the school committee may modify such orders by notifying the public of the proposed change and mailing copies of the proposal to the state board of education, the state attorney general, the city's mayor, the citywide parents' council, the Boston NAACP, and the city's Council of Administrators of Hispanic Agencies.
  • The state board will then "initiate and moderate negotiations" among the parties regarding the proposal. The school committee may proceed with the modification if the state board determines that further negotiations would not be fruitful or if three months have passed since public notice was given.

    Vol. 05, Issue 02, Page 10

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