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After 40 years, Phila. schools settle desegregation case

The Philadelphia School District is expected to formally settle an almost 40-year-old desegregation case today. At a special meeting scheduled for this morning, the School Reform Commission is set to vote on a settlement for a lawsuit that at first sought to desegregate city schools, then focused on providing equal opportunities for minority students.

The Philadelphia School District is expected to formally settle an almost 40-year-old desegregation case today.

At a special meeting scheduled for this morning, the School Reform Commission is set to vote on a settlement for a lawsuit that at first sought to desegregate city schools, then focused on providing equal opportunities for minority students.

The terms of the settlement were not clear yesterday.

Brought by the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission in 1970, the suit initially sought an order for the district to bus students to establish racial balance in city schools. For 25 years, a series of superintendents resisted the order and a series of judges declined to enforce it.

When Constance Clayton became superintendent in 1982, she, too, rejected the demand for busing to desegregate schools. Instead, she gave students the option to be bused. At the peak of the program, about 14,000 students took advantage. Most were African American students who attended predominantly white schools in the Northeast.

In 1994, Commonwealth Court Judge Doris Smith-Ribner ruled that the district had failed to provide equal opportunities for poor black and Hispanic students. She rejected busing, but ordered reforms, deemed expensive in the city's most racially isolated schools.

Smith-Ribner ordered help from Harrisburg to help pay for the improvements, but the state Supreme Court stripped her of much of her authority. In 2004, the judge stepped away from oversight to see whether the district's plans for closing an achievement gap between white and minority students would work.

Schools chief Arlene Ackerman has said that leveling the playing field for minority students is one of her priorities. Among other proposals, she wants to bring to Philadelphia weighted student funding, which provides more money for schools that educate the neediest students.

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