Schools' plan for integration challenged

Judge in Chicago ready to scrap 1980 agreement

January 19, 2003|By Lori Olszewski | Lori Olszewski,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

CHICAGO - Word that a federal judge could throw out the 22-year-old desegregation plan for Chicago's public schools as early as this spring has caught school officials and advocates off guard.

U.S. District Judge Charles P. Kocoras has ordered the Chicago school district into court Feb. 27 to discuss the possibility of dismissing the integration plan that the Board of Education agreed to in 1980 to avoid a legal battle with the U.S. Justice Department. "I do not know why it is that we should not terminate this consent decree because it is so outdated," Kocoras said at a status hearing a week ago, a court transcript shows.

Citing the change in the city's racial and ethnic makeup since the 1960s and '70s, the judge said, "It is either time for a new decree or time to end this one."

Since the plan was put in place the percentage of black students has shrunk from 60 percent to about 50 percent, and the Latino population has nearly doubled to 35 percent. White children account for less than 10 percent of the student body.

Kocoras' order stunned school officials, who are in the midst of a yearlong review of desegregation policies, in a city where most children attend racially isolated neighborhood schools. Chicago schools also have a poor record of racially integrating teaching staffs, as required in the court documents.

The judge's remarks raise questions about whether Chicago's system of magnet schools, created as a result of the plan, could be challenged. Admissions policies are based in part on achieving racial diversity.

Schools chief Arne Duncan said he is committed to equity and integration. "Let the chips fall where they may," he said. "We weren't already looking at these issues because of a legal order. It is simply the moral and right thing to do."

Lori Olszewski writes for the Chicago Tribune, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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