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The Philadelphia office of the U.S. Justice Department has intervened in a dispute over a mock "slave auction'' held in a Chester County, Pa., school earlier this year.

The dispute involves a late January incident in which a 1st-grade teacher at Octorara Elementary School chose two black children to portray slaves who were then "sold at auction.'' (See Education Week, Feb. 24, 1993.)

The children's parents were not satisfied with the teacher's apology and demanded that she and the superintendent be fired. The district refused.

Jon Chace, the regional director of the Justice Department's community-relations service, got in touch with the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the district and offered to mediate the dispute. The service is designed to help parties resolve disputes without litigation.

Negotiations between the district, the N.A.A.C.P., and the parents began early this month. While none of the parties is commenting on the issue, Mr. Chace said that in similar disputes, parties have agreed to alter school policies, create task forces, and work to strengthen relations between parents and the school community.

"These conflicts often serve [to provide] a useful, if painful, look at practices that need to be changed,'' Mr. Chace said.

The Richmond, Va., school board has voted to change the homeroom assignments of nearly 100 students at two elementary schools to end the schools' practice of racially segregating students.

The principals at Ginter Park and Bellevue Model elementary schools, two black-majority schools, had long been clustering white children into separate classes "for social and emotional reasons.'' Many schools in the city began the practice in the 1970's in an effort to help stem "white flight'' from the public schools. District officials have said they thought the practice had died out. (See Education Week, Jan. 13, 1993.)

The move will affect about 28 students of both races at Ginter Park and 70 more at Bellevue Model, school officials said.

Under pressure from civil-rights activists, the board rejected a plea from some parents to delay the reassignment until the next school year.

Vol. 12, Issue 24

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