The federal judge who oversees Chicago’s 22-year-old school desegregation order signaled this month that he’s ready to throw out the plan because it is “passé.”
“We need a clean slate,” U.S. District Judge Charles P. Kocoras told lawyers for the Chicago school board and the U.S. Department of Justice, according to a transcript of a Jan. 10 hearing. “The whole complexion of the city has changed. The school system has changed dramatically. So somebody tell me why this case should stay alive.”
The Chicago school board’s 1980 court-ordered desegregation plan called for the creation of racially mixed magnet schools, a 65 percent cap on white enrollment at schools, and a racial composition of each school’s faculty that falls within 15 percent of the racial makeup of the district’s total teaching force.
Judge Kocoras’ apparent interest in ending the case surprised lawyers and officials on both sides of the desegregation case, but a spokeswoman for the district said the school board should soon be ready to replace the decree with its own policies.
In late 2001, the board hired a team of consultants to review the policies adopted under the consent decree and recommend how to revise them to fit the district’s current demographic mix. The 432,000-student district’s white population is just over half what it was in 1980, and the number of Hispanic students attending city schools has climbed dramatically, according to district officials.
“The review is winding down now, and we should have recommendations in the next few months,” said district spokeswoman Joi M. Mecks. “Absent that, we’d have to start from scratch” in the event the judge decides to end the court-ordered desegregation plan.
The judge set a Feb. 27 hearing to decide the consent decree’s future.