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Court Holds State Liable in Yonkers Desegregation

September 25, 1996

NEW YORK (AP) _ A federal appeals court on Tuesday said New York state was greatly responsible for racial segregation in Yonkers schools and must pay to fix the harm done to black and Hispanic children.

The decision prompted jubilation among city and school officials in Yonkers, where the cost of integration was estimated to be as high as $300 million.

``It’s a wonderful day for Yonkers public schools and its students,″ said Superintendent of Schools Reginald Marra.

Marra said the decision means ``the state must join us and share responsibility in dealing with the vestiges of segregation.″

Those vestiges include unequal test scores, higher suspension rates and other remnants of a school system in which minorities did not receive as good an education as whites.

The ruling by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed last year’s decision of U.S. District Judge Leonard B. Sand, who said the state’s neglectful actions were passive, not active desegregation.

Actions the state was faulted for included the Legislature’s appointment of busing opponents to the Board of Regents. Also faulted was the Legislature’s cutting of a state Racial Balance Fund set up to help communities desegregate schools, and the passing of a law prohibiting states from assigning students based on race.

The case now goes back to Sand to act on the appeals court’s findings and determine the money needed to remedy the situation.

Larry Thomas, a lawyer for the school district, said Sand must decide which remedies to order, such as smaller classes, new buildings and different curricula.

Joe Mahoney, a spokesman for state Attorney General Dennis Vacco, said no decision had been made on whether to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Yonkers case has occupied the city, its school system and Judge Sand for more than a decade.

In 1986, Judge Sand ordered Yonkers to move forward with magnet schools and busing to desegregate, as well as build housing in white areas for minorities.

In 1987 the Yonkers school board sued to get the state to pay the cost. Sand dismissed the suit last year and the city appealed, which resulted in Tuesday’s ruling.

``After significantly contributing to the problem, the state got off nearly scot-free,″ said Michael Sussman, lawyer for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Marra said it would take years for remedies to be put in place that would help minorities get a quality education.

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