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Black Teachers Lose High Court Bid to Protect Jobs

November 02, 1987|Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court, declining to take a new look at affirmative action in the American workplace, refused to revive an Indiana school district's plan for protecting the jobs of black teachers from layoffs.

The court, without comment, left intact a ruling that the rights of white teachers in South Bend, Ind., were violated when they were dismissed before blacks with less seniority.

The South Bend plan was challenged after school officials in 1982 laid off 146 white teachers because of declining pupil enrollment and budget constraints. The dismissed teachers included 48 with more seniority than black teachers who were retained.

With the approval of its teachers union, South Bend had adopted an affirmative-action plan in 1978 at a time when black teachers comprised 10% of the schools' faculty. The black student enrollment then was 22%.

More Black Teachers

The South Bend plan raised the percentage of black teachers to 13% at the time of the layoffs. By then, black pupil enrollment had risen to 25%.

The U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, in a 5-4 ruling last May that relied heavily on recent Supreme Court decisions, said the layoffs were unconstitutional because they violated the equal-protection rights of white teachers with more seniority.

The plan was not "narrowly tailored to the goal of remedying previous discrimination," the appeals court said.

"Given the long history of discrimination against black people, in Indiana as elsewhere, we cannot exclude the possibility that the South Bend school board, perhaps until fairly recently, discriminated against black teachers in hiring," the appeals court said.

But it added that school officials failed to argue that point as justification for their preferential layoff treatment of black teachers when the case was tried before a federal judge.

Importance as Role Models

Instead, the appeals court said, the officials emphasized the importance of increasing the percentage of black teachers to serve as role models for their students.

The high court in 1986 struck down a plan in Jackson, Mich., schools that protected from layoffs black teachers with less seniority than whites.

The vote in that case was 5 to 4, with Chief Justice Warren E. Burger and Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr.--both of whom have since retired--voting in the majority.

In another case today, the justices refused to free the government from keeping careful tabs on Social Security benefits paid to representatives of people unable to manage their own affairs.

The court, citing a lack of jurisdiction, rejected Reagan Administration arguments that monitoring millions of such payments will create a mountain of unnecessary paper work.

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