Ed School Professor Criticizes Historic End to Boston Busing

* Willie says new plan threatens to resegregate city's school system

BOSTON--Flanked by a multi-racial contingent of once-opposites in Boston's infamous school desegregation battle, Mayor Thomas M. Menino announced the city's historic plan to eliminate race as a factor in school assignment on Wednesday.

Yesterday, the chief architect of the overturned system, the Graduate School of Education's Eliot Professor Emeritus Charles Willie, said he strongly opposes the new plan.

Advocates of removing race said the timing--for a city facing a forgone court battle--made "common sense."

But Willie disputed that the new plan's motivations--in a still divided city--fail to evoke a needed common cause.

"The Superintendent said that he made the changes so that we could get away from thinking about race," Willie said. "My prediction is that the exact opposite is going to happen. He is returning us to a system of segregated schools."

But city and school officials dismissed many of the concerns raised by Willie and scores of other minority leaders. At Wednesday night's school committee meeting, they formally voted to remove the racial component of Willie's "controlled choice assignment" in the fall of 2000.

Strange Bedfellows

Menino said he hoped Boston, the city that invented the term "busing" 25 years ago, could move beyond the sometimes-violent racial polarization that marked the city following the court order of federal judge Arthur Garrity to end school segregation.

But the most evident divide on Wednesday was between leaders of the city's minority communities.

"If you think that politics makes strange bedfellows, education makes even stranger bedfellows," said supporter State Sen. Diane Wilkerson (D-Roxbury), Massachusetts' only African-American senator.

"I defy you to scan your files from the 1970s and you will never find a picture--I guarantee you--from the 1970s of people gathered to talk about education and schools in Boston who look like this," she said of the group at Menino's press conference.

"You're not going to see a lot of smiles here today," she added. "But now we can move on to the bigger battle."

Not all minority leaders agreed. Concerned parents, elected officials and activists--most strongly opposed to the new plan--packed school headquarters for over two hours of passionate public testimony before the school committee approved the plan.

"Have some gonads," said Jean McGuire, director of the region-wide METCO busing program. "Represent the constituency that is the Boston schools. Do not capitulate to this fraudulent tactic."

Willie wasn't at the school committee meeting, but he strongly agreed with McGuire's concern. "It's a very sad day for Boston to leave the high ground of a fair plan that didn't give preference to anyone and empowered parents, while making it impossible for a school to reject any student," he said.