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Desegregation: pulls and pushes

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Ways to better desegrated schools are fortunately being found just when schools are being challenged to observe desegregation law with lessened federal support.

The latest study of desegregation, a seven-year project embracing analysts of 1,200 other studies, reaches an unsurprising, persuasive conclusion: that to make a desegregated school a good school means improving administration, discipline, curriculum, and instruction in a comprehensive approach. Communities and parents should be involved both before and after desegregation. Opportunities should be maximized. Clear and consistent expectations for student behavior should be established. There should be such follow-through as analyzing reasons for any disproportionate suspension of minority students and providing in-school alternatives to keeping students out through suspensions.

Responding to questions at a news conference, study director Willis Hawley of Vanderbilt University said the Reagan administration appears to believe that the American people want to withdraw from desegregation. But he noted that, no matter what the administration says, hundreds of school systems and millions of children will be involved under court orders and other desegregation programs. Hence the basic need to make desegration work -- and work better, in line with Dr. Hawley's statement that "desegregation seems to have positive effects on children, particularly minority children, although it has not been as successful as its advocates hoped it would be."

Can positive effects be continued and increased without firm leasership in Washington? Do the american people really want to withdraw from desegregation?

Such questions are heightened by recent events in Congress and the administration. Last week the Senate finally broke a filibuster against legislation that Would restrict both the courts and Justice Department in the enforcement of desegregation law through the means of mandatory busing. The American Bar Association has understandably thrown its weight against such constitutionally dubious efforts to circumscribe the other branches of government. Many Americans who are not opposed to desegregation have reservations about the manner busing has been used in some circumstances. But the appropriate way to limit it is not through the pending limits on the courts and, in effect, the president through the Justice Department. Delay of final action on the Senate legislation should permit a full airing of the matter.

Meanwhile, the Justice Department on its own is turning away from support of strong desegregation efforts. Last month it reversed itself and approved a Chicago desegregation plan it had previously called incomplete. This month it reversed itself and supported a Washington state antibusing law, thus in effect opposing even busing plans adopted voluntarily by school boards in three cities.

Which brings us back to the challenge mentioned at the beginning, to make desegregation work with reduced federal leadership.

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