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Los Angeles plan: some call it a classic case of a program gone haywire

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When voluntary busing came to Los Angeles public schools more than two years ago, it seemed natural that Milly Harmon should be one of the first parents to sign her children up.

She was, after all, an "absolute" supporter of busing, a liberal thinker who had grown up in the activist 1960s and taught at an all-black school in Oakland, Calif., while living in nearby Berkeley.

"I was dazzled. I was thrilled with the program," she says of the school that was to become a model part of the districts busing plan. "I never saw my kids getting out of busing."

But somewhere along the bumpy road this city has taken toward court-ordered integration of its schools, busing not to be too much for Milly Harmon -- too confusing, too pointless. "Devastating" is the word she uses.

Next year, she has decided, she is calling it quits.Her three children will be enrolled in private schools.

"You asked about my liberal thoughts from the '60s?" she queries. "Well, I'm not living in the '60s now. I'm living in the '80s.

"It's not that I'm against busing per se," she explains. "But whatever it takes to make it work hasn't worked in this community . . . .

"People say we'll hang in there, but hang in with what?" she continues. "There's no education program left. The whole thing's bankrupt."

It would be unfair to say that Milly Harmon's disillusionment is characteristic of every parent who has children in the Los Angeles busing program -- or to claim that the city's 17-year battle to desegregate has failed on all fronts.

There are, to be sure, parents who still stand by the public schools here, as well as students who say that busing has been a valuable venture.

But it is also true that this school district of 500,000-plus pupils -- the second-largest in the nation -- is often singled out as a classic case of busing gone haywire. A continuing string of court rulings and appeals has compounded the confusion, spurring a growing exodus of whites, and some minorities as well, from the public school system.

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