Saturday, April 15, 2006

US turns back the clock: racially segregated schools get OK

FIFTY years after the US abolished segregated schools, the state of Nebraska has been accused of seeking to carve up its largest school district along broadly racial lines.

Under a new measure signed into law on Thursday by Governor Dave Heineman Omaha's highly regarded public school system will be divided into three racially distinct entities: African-American, Hispanic and white. The changes take effect from July 2008.

The division, proposed by the only African-American member of the state legislature, was adopted at breakneck speed.

Its provisions represent one of the most sweeping challenges to the desegregation of American state schools that was mandated by the US Supreme Court in 1954. Nebraska's Attorney-General has warned that it could be in violation of the US constitution, and would be challenged in the courts.

The measure has been opposed by a powerful coalition of business leaders - including Warren Buffett, the Omaha-based financier who is the world's second-richest man - as well as civil rights organisations.

"Basically, it is state-sanctioned segregation," said state senator Patrick Bourne who voted against the bill.

However, Ernie Chambers, who proposed the division, argued that local schools have been effectively segregated for years and that the stated aim of integration had been discredited.

"There has always been segregation," he said. "There is now, and always will be, so rather than go through all this worthless talk that has gone on now for generations about integration, let's talk about getting better schools."

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