Today is the deadline for Southern school districts to file their 1966-67 desegregation plans (or compliance forms) with the federal Office of Education. Districts which do not file plans can have their federal aid cut off under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. As of Tuesday, 1,434 districts, of the total 1,950 in question, had complied. Officials are pleased with these figures; judging by what happened last year, the government can probably expect compliance from over 95 per cent of the districts, counting latecomers who will undoubtedly wait weeks or months before they sign their forms.
But the high rate of compliance should not hide the minimal progress that has been made. While the office of Education can claim some credit for speeding the integration process, the fact remains that only 6.01 per cent of Negroes in the 11 Southern states now attend schools with whites. (For the six borders states and the District of Columbia the figure is a heal their 68.9 per cent.) Commissioner of Education Harold Howe II has said that he hopes the new guidelines will raise the percent-age in the deep South this fall to 12 per cent. But an official in the Office of Education said yesterday that he doubted that this goal can be reached.
Since the Supreme Court's 1954 desegregation decision, the South has effectively maintained its segregated school system against nearly all legal and extralegal pressures. A Southern Negro who entered the first grade at the time of the Court's ruling will graduate this June having spent his entire public school career in a segregated school. At the present rate of desegregation the bulk of a generation of Southern Negroes will be denied its legal right to integrated education with truly equal facilities and teaching staff.
The Office of Education has publicly recognized the need for change and action, but it has internationally proceeded at a minimal pace in order to avoid inciting Southern school boards to massive non-compliance. This hypothetical resistance has clearly been avoided. Last year all but 65 school districts agreed to desegregate and this year as well, massive compliance will probably be the rule. Education officials should regard this as a green light to proceed with all possible speed and pressure. Significant numbers of Negro students must be transferred to white schools. Token desegregation and free choice plans which place the burden on the Negro parents and students should in the future be ruled inadequate by the Office of Education.
And now that Title VI has begun to make some headway in the South, it is time that the federal government show some concern with the problem of Northern de facto segregation. The Office of Education is carrying out studies in Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, and Chester, Pa., to determine the type of guidelines that should be applied to schools in the North. We hope that it will not be long before federal education officials finish their research and are able to act.