Judge calls for consent decree hearing

CHAMPAIGN – A federal judge has called for a hearing in the Champaign school district's consent decree case.

The school district filed a motion last fall asking for an extension of time in which to add seats north of University Avenue, something required by the consent decree. That motion has never been heard.

Also, the court-appointed monitor, Robert Peterkin of Boston, filed his third monitoring report in January, and the parties have given written comments on it, said Michelle Schneiderheinze, law clerk to U.S. District Court Judge Joe Billy McDade, who is overseeing the case.

She said those two matters need to be heard, and she'll be working with Peterkin on any other issues that need to be resolved.

The hearing likely will be held in mid-October, although a date has not yet been set, and it could be held in Urbana or Peoria, Schneiderheinze said.

Carol Ashley, the attorney for the plaintiffs in the legal action that produced the consent decree, said she has asked that the agreement be extended if the judge allows the school district an extension to put seats in the north part of the district. She said she wants court oversight of student assignments for any new seats on the north side.

"This is a very significant case, a case that has many layers and issues to it, so having a hearing really is part of the normal course of business," Ashley said. "We welcome the opportunity to air various issues to the court. There are areas where the district and the plaintiffs agree on the issues. It's important to present those, as well as some areas of disagreement where the court's involvement may be necessary to resolve the issues."

The last hearing in the case was in December 2003 in Urbana, to review Peterkin's first monitoring report. It showed little progress by the school district on racial inequities. In a written order issued after the hearing, McDade said he was troubled by the lack of trust between the school district and the black community, and the disengagement on issues such as racial climate in the schools.

Peterkin filed a second monitoring report in 2004. McDade said in a written order that the district had made progress by developing a plan for complying with the consent decree and for data-gathering. He said the district had also made progress in areas such as increasing the number of black students in gifted programs and in handling chronic truancy.

McDade said there was no need for a hearing on the second report.

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