Judge who desegregated Boston schools in '74 is now relinquishing his role. System nurtured by Judge Garrity could be model for other cities
Boston — After 11 years of control of the Boston public schools, US District Judge W. Arthur Garrity Jr. is finally handing over the reins. He will no longer have a role in monitoring the system of racial desegregation that he set up in the early 1970s and is instead placing this task firmly in the hands of the Boston School Committee. But he is also establishing a delicate system of checks and balances, under which the committee must consult parents, minority groups, and local officials on policy changes regarding race matters.
His eight-point withdrawal ruling, issued Friday, is expected to set a pattern for federal decrees in urban school systems throughout the nation. While giving the school committee latitude to propose and carry out changes in the ruling, the Garrity plan permanently prohibits racial discrimination and segregation in the school population, the faculty, and staff.
It comes at a time when the Reagan administration, via the United States Justice Department, is attempting to overturn hiring systems based on affirmative action in several US cities.
The new ruling would eliminate any federal role in running Boston's schools. It completes the phased withdrawal by Judge Garrity which began in 1982.
``The new 13-member school committee [now itself desegregated] has gained important experience in overseeing the remedial phase of this case, and it has demonstrated its willingness and ability to implement it,'' Judge Garrity said. The judge is soliciting comments on his ruling from all groups concerned; he will issue a final order Aug. 7.
Local reaction so far has ranged from concern about the judge's withdrawal to charges that he is placing too many restrictions on the school committee. But all around there was praise for Garrity's work.
``I respect the long service Garrity has given to this unpopular mission,'' says Ruth Batson, education director of the Boston NAACP in the early '70s. ``I hope his work will be respected by others.''
Muriel Snowden, co-director of Freedom House, a local center for information on desegregation, says: ``I have mixed feelings about the judge pulling out at this time. I know that at some point he has to leave. The pressure is now on the school committee to do the right thing.''
Among the provisions of the Garrity proposal is the continuation of the Citywide Parent Council, a court-ordered monitoring group funded by the school committee. He also intends to make permanent the school department's implementation office, charged with carrying out the desegregation order.
If the school committee seeks to modify the judge's platform in the future, it will be required to consult with five other parties: the state board of education; the state attorney general's office; the mayor of Boston; the parents; and the Boston chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
Garrity has long expressed a desire to withdraw from the case. He has held ``big brother'' control over Boston schools since June 1974.
His takeover came at a time when racial tension was rising in Boston. School enrollment was 89,000 and 75 percent white; less than 5 percent of the administrators and teachers were black. (Enrollment today is 60,000 -- 25 percent white; 24 percent of the staff is black, as is 19 percent of the teachers.) Desegregated schools opened with violence in September 1974.
Racial violence in schools is no longer an issue as Garrity prepares his final orders. His court-appointed overseer for the schools, state education commissioner John H. Lawson, says the Boston school system is ``in compliance'' with desegregation orders.
The timing of Garrity's withdrawal is also thought to be tied to the fact that three candidates of his liking have been chosen as possible successors to school superintendent Robert Spillane, who resigned in June.
Boston is prepared to run its own schools, Mr. Spillane affirmed in an interview prior to the judge's announcement. He noted progress in educational quality, race relations, and support for city schools.
``I'm proud of the improvement in race relations during my three years as superintendent,'' Dr. Spillane said.
The Hub's schools ``have improved tremendously,'' says Jack E. Robinson, president of the Boston NAACP. ``But we plan to double-check the final court order to be sure that racial discrimination will be in the past tense in schools when Judge Garrity steps down.''