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The U.S. Education Department's office for civil rights is investigating the Richmond, Va., school district to determine if it assigns students to classes in its elementary schools based on their race.

In a press release issued late last month, Superintendent Lucille M. Brown of the Richmond district said the civil-rights office notified her in a letter that it plans to conduct a review to determine if the district is in compliance with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. That law prohibits federally funded institutions from discrimination on the basis of race or nationality.

The investigation of the district, which receives more than $8 million a year in federal funding, comes after the district's board pressured two elementary schools to stop "clustering'' white children in the same classrooms.

One school had kept white students, who were in the minority, together to prevent them from feeling racially isolated, while the other tended to have disproportionate numbers of white children in the same classrooms as a result of its policy of letting parents chose their children's teachers. (See Education Week, Jan. 13, 1993.)

Ms. Brown denied any school board or administration involvement in the clustering incidents, and said the district does not maintain or endorse racially discriminatory policies.

School officials in Los Angeles have decided to begin using metal detectors to randomly screen students at school for the first time, in response to renewed demands for better school security following a fatal shooting this month.

One student was killed and another seriously wounded at Fairfax High School Jan. 21. (See Education Week, Jan. 27, 1992.)

Superintendent of Schools Sid Thompson announced last week that the district will begin using hand-held detectors at three to five schools each day on a rotating basis, without advance warning to students.

The program was expected to begin early this month.

The district has used the devices to screen students at athletic events and dances in the past, but never for campus searches. The school board has long voiced disapproval of random searches due to the expense and difficulties of scheduling them in the sprawling district.

Last week, however, the board endorsed Mr. Thompson's pilot program.

If the program succeeds in uncovering weapons, Mr. Thompson said, he will ask the board for funds to buy additional detectors to expand the searches. The devices cost approximately $200 apiece.

The district is also mounting a campaign, including an anonymous telephone hot line, to persuade students to turn in guns.

Vol. 12, Issue 18

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