State Liable for Integration Costs

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The state of Arkansas can be ordered to fund extensive new education programs as part of a comprehensive desegregation remedy currently being implemented in Little Rock, a federal appeals court has ruled.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit held this month that a lower court had "erred in holding that the state was not obligated to fund remedial and compensatory programs" that the Little Rock School District--the state's largest--and other plaintiffs in the case had requested.

The appeals-panel decision also overturns a student-assignment plan approved by U.S. District Judge Henry Woods last year for the Pulaski County Special School District. That district, the state's second largest, is one of two predominantly white districts located in the same county as the predominantly black Little Rock schools.

The Eighth Circuit panel indicated a preference for a plan that would significantly increase mandatory busing in the Pulaski County Special School District. It ordered that such a plan be designed and implemented in time for the start of the next school year in September.

Call for Special Session

Immediately after the ruling, influential state lawmakers asked Gov. Bill Clinton to call a special session of the legislature during its off-year to discuss plans for consolidating all or parts of the three school districts in the county, which also includes the North Little RockSchool District.

A spokesman for Governor Clinton said last week that the Governor "will not call a special session at this time," but will first ask all of the judges of the Eighth Circuit Court to rehear the case.

The Governor believes that submitting to the ruling "would hurt our efforts to provide equal educational opportunities throughout the state," because "every dollar we put into Little Rock is a dollar taken away from another school district," said the spokesman, Michael Gauldin.

"We're not going to ask them to buy us the moon," said Julia McGehee, communications director for the Little Rock School District.

"We're not trying to take money from other schools in Arkansas," she added. "It's the state's responsibility to fund these programs, but they don't have to take it out of the general education fund."

George D. Cannon, who was4named superintendent of the Little Rock schools in December, has said the district will try to use its own resources as much as possible to fund new programs. Mr. Cannon "does not think we would possibly ask for more than $10 million" from the state, Ms. McGehee said.

'No Less Guilty'

The new appellate ruling adds Arkansas to the list of states that have been ordered by courts to increase substantially their expenditures for desegregation-related educational programs.

The Eighth Circuit Court has also required the state of Missouri to pay similar costs in both the Kansas City and St. Louis desegregation cases. The panel in the Arkansas case referred frequently to those decisions when describing the scope of the remedy it is seeking in Little Rock.

"The state of Arkansas is no less guilty of past constitutional violations than the state of Missouri, and it should be liable for a comparative remedy," the three-judge panel wrote.

Other states that have been ordered to fund educational programs to compensate students for the lingering effects of racially segregated schooling include Delaware, Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio. Similar cases are pending or are being considered in several other states. (See Education Week, Feb. 10, 1988.)

Class Size Ordered Reduced

The Eighth Circuit panel's latest ruling does not specify the types of remedial programs it expects the district court to approve for the Little Rock School District. But it says that, at a minimum, the programs in "racially identifiable" schools should include a reduction in class size to no more than 20 students per teacher.

Despite the implementation of a new student-assignment plan last September, seven of the district's 51 schools are considered "racially identifiable" because 75 percent or more of their total enrollment is black.

Many white parents whose children were assigned to those schools last fall opted to enroll them in private schools or magnet schools rather than allow them to attend schools in neighborhoods they considered dangerous.

The appellate panel also ordered the state and the school district to fund remedial and compensatory-education programs in schools not racially identifiable, saying that "the black children of lrsd (and the white children too, for that matter) have been deprived, in varying degrees and from time to time, of their federal constitutional right to a desegregated education."

The panel remanded the case to Judge Woods and ordered him to consider remedial and compensatory programs proposed by the district or by black parents who have intervened in the case.

When such programs are ap8proved, Judge Woods must also decide the share of the costs to be borne by the district and the state, based on the comparative effects of their constitutional violations.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit have already agreed to a plan that would provide "major enhancements" to the seven racially isolated schools by next September, and similar improvements in eight schools near the maximum allowable black enrollment the following year.

The recent ruling "puts the emphasis back on programs and allows us to concentrate on making the best schools we possibly can make for every child," said Ms. McGehee.

Pulaski Officials 'Disappointed'

The lawsuit that sparked the recent ruling was filed six years ago by the Little Rock School District against its neighboring districts and various state officials and entities.

District officials charged that the actions of these parties helped cause the illegal segregation in its schools, which it had been ordered to remedy under an earlier lawsuit that stands as a landmark in the civil-rights struggles of the 1950's.

Earlier in the case, Judge Woods ordered the consolidation of the three school districts in Pulaski County, but the Eighth Circuit ruled that he lacked the authority to do so. State lawmakers, who do have that authority, are expected to consider proposals to merge the districts during their next regular session in 1989.

Meanwhile, Pulaski County Special School District officials are developing a new desegregation plan that would stabilize black enrollment in all of its schools at levels between 18 percent and 30 percent, as the recent decision requires. A plan implemented last fall divided the district into three attendance zones, which resulted in black school enrollments ranging from 11 percent to 50 percent.

Officials in the district are "disappointed" that the Eighth Circuit panel rejected its new student-assignment plan.

"We feel we had a good, effective program," said Billy Bowles, administrator for research and planning in the district.

Of the requirement that the district design and implement a new desegregation plan by next fall, Mr. Bowles said, "It will be difficult, but it can be done."

The district will also request a rehearing before the full Eighth Circuit Court, he said.

Some Prior Orders Affirmed

In its ruling this month, the three-judge panel also upheld several of Judge Woods's previous decisions in the lawsuit, including his refusal to step down from the case and his orders affecting school-board elections, teacher reassignments, and the creation of magnet schools.

In addition, the appeals panel ordered that a dispute over the seniority rights of hundreds of teachers who had been laid off from the Pulaski County Special School District and hired by the Little Rock School District be submitted to arbitration, as the teachers' associations in both districts had requested.

The panel threw out Judge Woods's plan, which would have granted the Pulaski teachers full rights to seniority accumulated in both districts after five years of employment in the Little Rock schools.

Vol. 07, Issue 22

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