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Court to decide whether to give public schools back to Cleveland

November 3, 1997

CLEVELAND (AP) _ Saying ``it’s time to move on,″ a lawyer for Ohio’s largest school district urged a judge today to end 21 years of court supervision of its treatment of minorities. But the lawyer who filed the original desegration lawsuit said the oversight was still needed.

``We look forward to the time when there are no court orders, but we also look forward to the time when there is no need for court orders. Unfortunately that has not arrived yet,″ said the lawyer for the plaintiffs, James Hardiman.

The state and district argue that all that can be done to end segregation in the district has been done. They want U.S. District Judge George White to end the federal oversight, which went so far as to strip the school board of its power and make the state directly responsible for operating the troubled school district.

It is a hot issue in Cleveland, where the last census said the city’s population included 250,000 whites and 255,000 members of minority groups, mostly blacks.

Of the 70,000 students in Ohio’s largest school district, 70 percent are black; in 1978, when a desegregation plan that eventually included widespread busing was adopted, blacks were 63 percent of the total.

The case dates back more than a generation, to a 1973 lawsuit charging racial imbalance in the district. Three years later, a federal judge found the state and Cleveland school board liable for running a segregated school district and placed the district under federal court supervision.

U.S. District Judge Robert Krupansky, who ended busing last year, became so frustrated with mismanagement of the debt-ridden schools that he ordered the state to take over.

Gov. George Voinovich signed a law in August that would shift leadership of the schools to Mayor Michael R. White. But the law requires that Judge White _ no relation _ agree to end the desegregation case first.

``This hearing could remove a big hurdle″ to mayoral control of the district, said district lawyer Adrian Thompson.

Not everyone supports the effort to regain local control. The Cleveland Teachers Union and the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People have sued to block the takeover.

The judge was expected to decide whether the district has reached benchmarks agreed upon in 1994 for ending the case. Goals included racial balance in the student body and staff, as well as equal access to reading programs, magnet schools and other educational opportunities.

Margaret Anne Cannon, an attorney for the state, said the mission has been accomplished.

``Your honor, it’s time to move on,″ she told the judge today.

But Hardiman, who filed the original suit, said it’s too early too tell whether programs established to integrate the schools have worked _ and he still sees signs of prejudice.

A controversy erupted in August after a school calendar cover was distributed depicting a black student in clothing associated with gangs _ overalls, untied sneakers and a bandanna wrapped around his head.

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