District to Keep Integration System

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Faced with a possible lawsuit challenging its use of race in elementary school assignments, the Berkeley Unified School District Board of Education voted late Wednesday night to maintain the district's integration policies for at least another year.

The Pacific Legal Foundation, a Sacramento-based public interest law firm devoted to less government is gathering information about how the district assigns students to its elementary schools, according to foundation and district spokespeople. The foundation has already sued the Huntington Beach School District for its race-based assignment policies.

Currently, race is the main factor in distributing students among the district's nine non-magnet elementary schools. Magnet school students are assigned based on a variety of factors, including socioeconomic status.

At Wednesday's meeting, the board voted to maintain its current integration policy for this year's elementary school applicants, while creating a committee to assess how to assign students for fall 2001, district spokesperson Karen Sarlo said yesterday.

But school board President Pamela Doolan voted against the proposal, advocating instead that all Berkeley elementary schools adopt the magnet school assignment policies as a deterrent to a potential lawsuit.

"The hope is that we will never have to face litigation," Doolan said. "We want to keep the district in control of the policy and not have the courts be in control. We have financial issues, we have teachers who would like their salaries increased - we don't want to put a lot of money into legal costs."

A Pacific Legal Foundation representative said that although the district has not yet been served with a formal suit, it is under scrutiny.

"They're one of the districts we've been looking at, among others in the state, that have race-based admissions policies for their schools," said Stephen McCutcheon. "Our position is that it is unconstitutional."

More than a dozen protesters from UC Berkeley and Berkeley High School staged a press conference outside of Wednesday's meeting to demand that the board adhere to current assignment policies.

Hoku Jeffreys, a member of the Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action By Any Means Necessary, presented a petition signed by more than 1,000 Berkeley High School students to the board, urging the district to maintain current integration policies.

Jeffreys called the foundation a "segregationist law firm," and said it was specifically targeting Berkeley High School.

"Until the city of Berkeley can become an integrated city, we're going to need to be busing kids," said Zachary Moon, a Berkeley High School student. "It's not time to go backward; it's time to go forward.


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