WASHINGTON — THE Supreme Court established relaxed standards that school districts still operating under desegregation orders must meet to prove compliance with the law and remove themselves from federal court jurisdiction. The court, in a 5-to-3 decision, ruled Tuesday that a once-segregated school system can be found to have achieved the mandate of a federal court when it has complied with integration orders for a ``reasonable period of time,'' has eliminated the remnants of past legalized segregation ``as far as practicable,'' and when it is deemed ``unlikely'' that the school board would return to its former ways.
The decision ultimately could affect more than 500 school districts nationwide still under court-ordered desegregation plans. Many of those school districts had been waiting for years for the court to speak on the issue.
Clint Bolick, director of the Landmark Legal Foundation's Center for Civil Rights, said the decision means ``forced busing will not be a permanent part of the American landscape.''
But some legal experts said the decision, which came 37 years after the landmark Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kan., ruling that led to forced busing and other desegregation measures, left many major issues unresolved.
``It is a very ambiguous decision,'' said Steven Shapiro, associate legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union. ``The only thing it guarantees is further litigation.''
THE high court reversed a decision of the 10th US Circuit Court of Appeals, which had ruled that a desegregation decree should remain in effect indefinitely unless a school district proved ``a clear showing of grievous wrong evoked by new and unforeseen conditions.''
In that respect it lowered the standards that school districts must meet to remove themselves from court-ordered desegregation plans.
The justices, however, ruled that lower courts, in deciding if all ``vestiges'' of past legalized segregation have been eliminated, must look not only at student enrollment but to ``every facet of school operations - faculty, staff, transportation, extracurricular activities and facilities.''