- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 26, 2003

BOSTON (AP) — Boston’s school system seems forever tied to images of black schoolchildren being pelted with rocks and bottles as they were bused into the city’s white neighborhoods in the 1970s.

But the school system’s demographics have changed dramatically since then, with blacks, Hispanics and Asians constituting about 86 percent of the city’s 62,000 public-school students, up from 48 percent in the mid-1970s.

Now city officials are looking at a plan to end widespread busing, estimating it could save up to $25 million in transportation costs at a time when state school funding is down 15 percent. They also hope to encourage parental involvement by putting students in schools closer to where they live.

“It’s really the issue of how do you get the best kind of community engagement in schools and really focus on the parents as partners and make it easy for them to really participate,” said schools Superintendent Thomas Payzant.

But state Rep. Byron Rushing, a black Democrat from Boston who supported busing in the 1970s, said the issue remains a hot button among minorities. Based on history, he said, minorities have no reason to trust proposals supported by white neighborhoods, a white mayor and a white superintendent.

“You cannot talk about this unless you have a serious discussion about race and the school system. We will have no serious reassignment proposals until they originate in communities of color,” Mr. Rushing said.

School officials plan to release a draft proposal in December to change the assignment policy. Public hearings and a vote by the school committee will follow. Officials would not need court approval because the federal court ended its supervision of Boston’s desegregation efforts more than a decade ago.

After U.S. District Court Judge W. Arthur Garrity ordered busing to integrate schools in 1974, thousands of white parents refused to send their children to schools in Boston’s predominantly black neighborhoods of Roxbury, Dorchester and Mattapan.

Instead, white students flocked to private and parochial schools, or their parents moved out of the city to predominantly white suburbs.

White, middle-class students have “almost entirely escaped” Boston public schools, said a report by the Lewis Mumford Center for Comparative Urban and Regional Research at the University at Albany in New York. Half of white elementary-age students attend private schools, one of the highest rates among big cities.

In 1990, Boston created three zones that used race and parental preference for assigning students to its 102 elementary and middle schools. In 1999, Boston dropped race as a factor under threat of a lawsuit from white parents.

Today, the policy is that half the seats are reserved for students who can walk to school, and the other half are filled by children from other parts of the city. Parents complain that they can’t get their children into a good school down the street, while a neighbor did, all by virtue of luck in a random draw.

“We’re letting go of a policy that doesn’t work,” said Ann Walsh, president of Boston’s Children First, a group opposed to busing. “This is a very exciting moment.”

The Rev. Gregory Groover, pastor of Charles Street African Methodist Episcopal Church in Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood, said the proposal could help ensure greater parent and community ownership of the schools, but that such a move likely would decrease racial diversity.

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