CHICAGO – After a quarter century, a judge has released portions of Chicago Public Schools' desegregation plan from federal oversight.
In a decree issued Monday, U.S. District Judge Charles Kocoras eliminated a set of spending and reporting requirements from the original 1980 agreement covering the nation's third-largest school system, which has about 431,000 students.
"The current demographic makeup of Chicago and its student population bears virtually no resemblance to that which gave rise to litigation between the parties in the first instance," Kocoras wrote.
The changes include lifting a requirement that the school system spend nearly $100 million a year on desegregation. The school system had already committed to spending triple that, more than $300 million a year, on desegregation efforts such as after-school programs, summer school and bilingual projects, officials said.
School officials called the new decree as a victory.
"This returns our budget to local control. This is a positive for us," said Patrick Rocks, general counsel for Chicago Public Schools.
In 1980, the federal government ordered the city to desegregate its public schools, requiring it to provide additional educational services for children in racially isolated schools and to integrate to "the extent practicable."
School officials have argued that integrating the entire system is increasingly difficult, given the low percentage of white students, down from 17 percent in 1980 to less than 9 percent today. The majority of the district's students are black and 38 percent are Hispanic.
Schools activists criticized the new decree as too vague, saying they feel it lets the district off the hook.
"Nothing is quantifiable," said Valencia Rias of the school reform organization Designs for Change. "Basically, CPS just has to try to do something. And that something could be anything."
The federal government will continue to oversee portions of the district's desegregation plans, and Kocoras said the district will have to file motions in June in order to be freed from the remaining oversight. The current decree will be in place until the court decides to remove it.