Court Agrees Rockford Segregation Was Intentional

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A U.S. District Court has affirmed a federal magistrate's conclusion that the Rockford, Ill., schools engaged in intentional, long-term discrimination against black and Hispanic students.

Judge Stanley J. Roszkowski held last month that testimony presented by the coalition of local parents and activists that brought suit against the district had shown that the school system had engaged in a pattern of discrimination against minority students in a long list of educational practices. The practices, in such areas as the distribution of facilities, included many that previously had been regarded as racially neutral.

Judge Roszkowski disagreed, however, with Magistrate P. Michael Mahoney's finding that discrimination had occurred in staff assignment. (See Education Week, Nov. 10, 1993.)

Although the district's minority teachers clearly tended to be assigned to predominantly minority schools, the plaintiffs failed to show this was the result of intentional discrimination, Judge Roszkowski ruled. Instead, he said, racial disparities in staff assignments appeared to be due to contract provisions that tied teacher transfers to seniority.

That one exception to the magistrate's findings last week threatened to reignite the very battle, between the plaintiffs and the district's three major employee unions, that the case had been brought to trial to settle.

Impact on Contract Debated

The plaintiffs and the district had been willing to settle the case without a trial. But their agreement called for the district to reassign employees to promote racial balance--an apparent violation of union contracts.

After the unions intervened, a federal appeals court held in 1992 that the district could not abrogate union contracts without a court ruling that it had engaged in intentional racial discrimination.

Robert C. Howard, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said last week that Judge Roszkowski's finding that the district was guilty of systemwide discrimination had given the plaintiffs the ruling they sought.

"All those potential remedies that might affect the contract are available to us now,'' he said.

But Molly Phalen, the president of the Rockford Education Association, said the judge's exception to the magistrate's recommendations would protect the union contract.

"What the judge did was basically say there was not intentional discrimination in staffing,'' Ms. Phalen said. "Therefore, absent that, they cannot abrogate huge sections of our contract.''

Vol. 13, Issue 23

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