Detroit's proposal for all-male schools ruled unconstitutional City saw plan as a way to help urban black males.

August 16, 1991|By Knight-Ridder

DETROIT -- The school board's plan for all-male schools is unconstitutional, and the district must work out a compromise that would allow girls to enroll if the programs are to open as scheduled, a federal judge says.

School officials said they would meet with plaintiffs, the American Civil Liberties Union and the legal defense fund of the National Organization for Women to comply with yesterday's ruling by U.S. District Court Judge George Woods.

But school board President Lawrence Patrick Jr. also said the board would consider an appeal. District officials and many in the community were disappointed, because they saw the schools as a way to address what many see as a crisis facing urban black males.

Woods agreed that black males in Detroit are "an endangered species." But he said the school board presented no convincing evidence that urban males in the school system were any worse off than females. Baltimore is experimenting with all-male classes.

Michigan ACLU director Howard Simon said the group is anxious to help find a solution.

Frank Hayden, school board vice president, acknowledged that the ruling was based on law. "The question becomes, do you work on trying to get the law changed, or do you figure out another way to accomplish the same end that you want to accomplish?" Hayden said.

"My own heart tells me that people cannot be so callous that they would allow a whole segment of a population to perish without doing something to turn this around," Hayden said.

School officials had planned to open three all-male programs Aug. 27, in hopes that a specialized environment and curriculum would help curb the rate of failure of African-American males in school and in society.

The board noted that in 1989-90, the dropout rate for males was 54 percent, compared with 45 percent for females. Short-term suspensions for males were almost double those of females, 20,313 compared with 10,323.

The Detroit district has an enrollment of about 170,000. About 90 percent of students are black.

Woods ruled in favor of a Detroit woman who said the schools would discriminate against her three daughters. The ACLU and NOW represented the woman, who asked to remain anonymous.

Another Detroit mother, Shawn Garrett, withdrew from the case yesterday before the hearing, saying in a statement that she and her 4-year-old daughter had been harassed and threatened. She did not elaborate.

Clifford Watson, who was to direct an all-male program at Woodward Elementary School, where he was principal, said the ruling is further evidence of the effect of African-Americans not controlling any key institutions in the country.

"Clearly this is an example of a white federal judge making a decision for the African-American community which he does not live in and which he does not understand," Watson said.

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