Segregation 'back after 25-year gap';Briefing;International

9th July 1999 at 01:00

Shifts in social policy and demographics have led to the re-emergence of racial segregation in American schools, according to a Harvard University study.

The landmark study, conducted jointly by the university's graduate divisions of law and education, showed that US schools are becoming racially resegregated at an alarming rate, reversing decades of traumatic integration efforts. It also found that newly- resegregated schools have the highest concentrations of poverty.

"We're hoping this study and others like it are going to open people's eyes as to what's happening right now," said John Yun, one of the co-authors. "The segregation we have today was inherited from the discrimination in housing patterns in the 1940s and 1950s, and we're not even talking about it any more."

Instead, communities that tried to desegregate their schools in the 1970s and 1980s - often by forcibly bussing white students to black schools and black to white - are taking advantage of recent court decisions to return to a model of neighbourhood schools that tend to be homogeneous.

The shift has been most pronounced in the South, where earlier laws and court decisions starting in the 1950s had created the highest levels of school integration in the country. There, the percentage of black students in predominantly white schools has fallen from a high of 44 per cent 10 years ago to 35 per cent today in the South. "The American South is resegregating, after two-and-a-half decades in which civil rights law broke the tradition of apartheid in the region's schools," the Harvard study said.

Today, nearly 70 per cent of black students attend public schools that are at least half minority - even higher than the proportion before forced bussing.

Seventy-five percent of Hispanics also attend public schools that have a minority student population higher than 50 per cent. This, too, is a considerable increase.

And while more minorities are moving to the suburbs, schools there also are increasingly becoming segregated.

Recent judicial decisions have opened the way for this reversal, beginning with a landmark ruling in 1991 by the US Supreme Court, which had ordered an end to legal segregation in the first place in the 1950s. The court has ruled that communities could be required to simply spend more money on segregated schools to make up for historical discrimination, rather than requiring that the student body be desegregated.

The decisions have effectively allowed communities to operate segregated schools unless it could be demonstrated that they intended to discriminate - a standard that has proved virtually impossible to meet.

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