School integration may someday become voluntary. Suburban schools with mostly white student bodies and big-city systems with black and Hispanic majorities will soon be working together to broaden the social and cultural experiences of their students.
This is the conclusion of some 300 educators and administrators who gathered recently near Boston for a seminar. They say busing and set racial percentages will no longer be the key issues in school desegregation.
The changes, they add, have already begun. They range from a revision of the student exchanges between Milwaukee and 19 suburban communities to a decision by the Norfolk, Va., school department to drop a major portion of its court-ordered desegregation program.
There seems to be a growing willingness in the suburbs to accept inner-city black students into their schools. A model for this trend could be Metco (Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunity), a voluntary program that buses more than 3,000 inner-city Boston black students to the public schools in 38 neighboring communities.
Milwaukee and its suburbs are revising their exchange, which bused 2,147 black students to 17 suburbs and 1,518 white students to city schools in 1984-85.
``This program is successful because we have a lure, high-quality special [magnet] schools such as the School of the Arts and College Bound high schools,'' says Andrew Douglas, the Milwaukee program's director.
Among other cities involved in voluntary and compulsory suburban busing are St. Louis, Los Angeles, and Jackson, Miss.
Another trend is the revision of court-decreed plans. Norfolk has ended the busing of elementary school students but continues to bus junior high and high school students. But Boston schools are more typical. Superintendent Laval S. Wilson is seeking only modest changes in assignment policies. He is also launching a $2 million program to reduce the city's 43 percent dropout rate and encourage dropouts to return.
Legal issues and lagging white enrollment concern school boards. The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF) is protesting that the move in Norfolk could upset 30 years of legal efforts against racially segregated schools.
But William Bradford Reynolds, assistant attorney general in charge of the civil rights division of the Justice Department and a controversial figure on the affirmative-action scene, is advising school systems that they should be ``free to lift the yoke of crosstown busing'' after they have complied with court decrees. This conflict could spawn a series of court cases, especially if the LDF decides to challenge the Fourth US Circuit Court of Appeals approval of the Norfolk change.
Cities are seeking more white students. Under desegregation, enrollment has dropped from 60 percent white to 30 percent in both Boston and Norfolk.
Self-evaluation by suburban school officials, as occurred at the Metco conference, helps them accept minority students. ``We need more seminars like this one,'' says Charles Slater, the school superintendent of Brookline, Mass., a founding Metco suburb. ``All our principals attended. We're proud of the progress we've made, but we can't afford to sit on our laurels. We shall continue our training in the culture of minority groups, for teachers and administrators.''
Workshops discussed a variety of reforms to make integration acceptable:
Change perceptions of minority students: The key is to end the stereotyping of minority students as nonachievers, as disruptive, poor, and undisciplined..
Develop magnet schools: These schools, specializing in various subjects or disciplines, are designed to attract students of various backgrounds because of their interest in the subject matter rather than enrolling them on the basis of forced numerical percentages.
Involve parents and community: When changes are made, include parents of all students and the communities involved, particularly in an exchange between a city and a suburb.