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Court Limits Federal Role in Schools Case

September 29, 1987

BOSTON (AP) _ A federal appeals court has ruled that Boston schools have satisfied federal orders to desegregate, a confusing signal to some residents and officials concerned about a system that now is about 75 percent minority.

The 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Monday that the Boston School Committee has shown a ″commitment to eliminating racial discrimination″ and that an increased minority influence in how schools are run will prevent a return to segregated classrooms.

U.S. District Judge W. Arthur Garrity Jr., who has overseen school desegregation for 13 years, was ordered to hold a hearing to determine whether classrooms are indeed integrated.

If he finds they are, his system for assigning students, which included busied integration who sat on the School Committee when forced busing prompted bus stonings and armed brawls at schools, said Tuesday that ″nobody won″ under the Appeals Court decision.

Ms. Hicks said predictions she and other opponents made when busing was established in 1974 have came true - that middle-class white and black families would flee the city or enroll their children in private schools, and that friction between the races and decline of inner-city education would ensue.

She pointed to school district statistics showing white enrollment in the system fell from about 70 percent in 1974 to 26 percent currently. Lack of high numbers of white students prevents meaningful desegregation, she said.

In a trend that began in 1984, more school-age Boston children attend private schools than public. District statistics also show that enrollment plunged from 86,254 in 1975 to about 58,000 currently, with a dropout rate of 44 percent, about 3.5 times what it was 15 years ago.

In 1974, the Boston system had more than 200 schools. More than 80 have since been closed.

Ian Forman, a spokesman for the Boston School District, said many of those schools would have closed despite desegregation, due to age and inadequate size.

Garrity took control of the Boston public schools in 1974 after finding the committee had violated black students’ rights by assigning them to predominantly black schools.

One of Garrity’s orders established a quota system to achieve racial balance, which led to busing. Another required ″perpetual adherence″ to racial formulas in assigning students to schools.

Garrity returned control of the schools to the commmittee on Sept. 3, 1985, although his final orders left him jurisdiction in areas including student assignment and minority hiring.

His order requiring the use of specific racial guidelines in student assignments was overturned by the Appeals Court.

City Councilor James Kelly of South Boston, which saw much racial strife when forced busing began, said the School Committee will be pressured by residents over assignments.

″Will they now start assigning students to schools based on the freedom of choice concept and, in conjunction with that, an eye toward neighborhood schools, or assign students based on the color of skin?″ Kelly said.

Kelly said he believes parents care less now about the busing and more about ″what’s at the end of the bus drive. They want quality.″

Forman said the schools have been developing a plan for the future of Boston schools for the past 18 months. Part of that plan involves student assignments and how they will be carried out, he said.

″There’s a lot of work left to be done, but continuing desegregation will always be a part of it,″ Forman said.

Hattie McKinnis, a spokeswoman for the City Wide Educational Coalition, a parents’ group, said demographic figures show that young urban professionals with children who are settling in Boston will contribute to an eventual higher white enrollment in Boston’s schools. Ms. McKinnis said a commitment by school officials for continued and meaningful desegregation is needed.

″A lot of parents have expressed disappointment that (the schools) haven’t reached what was originally intended, which was education,″ Ms. McKinnis said. ″The parents think that too much emphasis had been on the busing aspect and not enough on the educational aspect.

″This year seemed to be a year of hope with the education plan. Education has become the forefront, but with this (court) announcement, some people believe we’re going back to yesteryear. We’re hoping that is not the case.″

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