Education Called Key To Calming Racial Tensions in Dallas

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In an effort to calm racial tensions in Dallas, a committee of community leaders convened by Mayor Annette Strauss has urged the city to undertake a massive public-education campaign and increase the hiring of minority teachers and school administrators.

"Because the education process is the vehicle--the tool--by which ignorance and misunderstanding can be eliminated," the panel's final report states, "this committee sees its role as central to the accomplishment of all the recommendations" of the group, called Dallas Together.

It was appointed last year to help defuse tensions following a series of racially charged slayings over the past few years. The victims have included several police officers, as well as blacks who were shot by police.

"The anguish which accompanied the loss of life--both citizens and police--made it clear that racial ten4sions were high and that without some method to openly address those tensions, our city was in danger of continued crisis," the panel's report says.

The panel identified five areas in which racial disparities were "generating continued racial tensions": education, business development, economic opportunity, the social underclass, and political participation.

It urged the Dallas school district to strengthen its efforts to recruit and retain a racially diverse staff. It also called for training on race relations and cultural diversity for school staff members, the use of multicultural curricula, and the creation of a commission to serve as a clearinghouse for education programs.

In addition to its recommendations for the schools, the panel asked the city to launch a massive public-information campaign that would8include a speakers' bureau, a multi-media campaign on the positive elements of diversity, and community-based activities using local organizations.

Meanwhile, the racially divided Dallas school board is facing continuing controversy over the status of the district's desegregation efforts.

On Jan. 27, the board's three black members walked out of a work session on the issue. They later accused their white colleagues of racial insensitivity.

Although minority students constitute some 80 percent of the district's enrollment, a majority of the nine-member board is white.

The members said they left the meeting because they believed district administrators were presenting misleading information on the rate of academic progress among minority pupils. Efforts to close the test-score gap between minority and white students were called for by a 1982 federal-court order in the desegregation case.

The workshop for board members was held in preparation for 20 public hearings the board has set on the question of whether Dallas should seek an end to court supervision.

Initially, the board voted 6 to 3 last year to seek a court ruling declaring the system unitary and ending the desegregation suit filed in 1972. However, the board changed its vote as racial tensions in the city heightened, and members expressed fear that the debate on unitary status would increase those tensions.

The board then scheduled a series of hearings for this year to gauge community feelings about seeking an end to the suit brought on behalf of black and Hispanic children.--nm

Vol. 08, Issue 20

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