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Parents Challenge Desegregation Law

June 4, 2002

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BOSTON (AP) _ Parents went to federal court Monday to challenge a town’s voluntary desegregation plan as an unconstitutional use of race to keep families from sending children to schools of their choice.

Under the plan in Lynn, transfers of students outside their own neighborhoods can be denied if they disturb a racial balance.

Lynn’s policy was written 14 years ago to comply with the state’s voluntary racial imbalance law, which asks public school districts to desegregate schools with a minority population of more than 50 percent. The state rewards school districts who voluntarily desegregate with additional money for educational services or building projects.

The trial is being closely watched by 21 other cities and towns in Massachusetts and others across the country who have also voluntarily desegregated their school systems.

``This is the first time in this country’s history that the validity of a voluntary school assignment plan is on trial,″ said assistant attorney general Richard Cole.

Meta Stinson was the only witness to testify Monday for seven parents challenging the desegregation plan. The parents then rested their case.

Stinson said she asked school administrators to transfer her 13-year-old daughter, Angelica, from her neighborhood school to Pickering Middle School because she was concerned about discipline problems at the neighborhood school.

``They said no. That wasn’t her district,″ Stinson said.

When asked by her attorney whether the administrators gave her any other reason why her daughter could not transfer, Stinson said she was told, ``Because she’s white.″

Chester Darling, whose Citizens for the Preservation of Constitutional Rights represents the families, said Lynn’s policy arbitrarily prohibits families from sending their children to schools of their choice.

``They have a variety of reasons for wanting to transfer, but they can’t because of the kid’s color,″ he said. ``We’re beyond that in our society.″

Assistant Attorney General Richard Cole asked Stinson if her daughter had benefitted from attending racially integrated schools in Lynn. Stinson acknowledged that Angelica had developed friendships with students of various races and has good racial attitudes.

She also acknowledged that helping children overcome racial stereotypes is an important part of the school system’s mission.

But when asked by her own attorney what the most important thing public schools can do for her daughter, Stinson replied, ``Teaching.″

Unlike the Boston public school system, which was ordered by the court to desegregate, Lynn voluntarily initiated its plan to maintain racial balance in its schools. Its school enrollment of more than 15,000 students is 42 percent white and 58 percent minority.

The NAACP Legal Defense Fund has intervened as a friend of the court on the side of the city and state.

``The evidence is going to show that there are substantial benefits to all students of all races to have plans like this,″ said Dennis Parker, NAACP assistant counsel.

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