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U.S. District Judge William Alsup began a Friday hearing � in what may be the longest-running case in San Francisco federal court � with a simple request: He wanted to hear why he should extend the court’s 27-year oversight of San Francisco public schools’ racial integration. “This is not an opportunity for politics,” Alsup told Peter Cohn, a lawyer for the San Francisco NAACP, which began the litigation in 1978. “I just want to hear your arguments.” By the end of Cohn’s speech � a soaring affair spiked with inventive metaphors (i.e. comparing meetings with a special master to the papal nomination process) and at least three denouements � Alsup seemed fairly convinced that he would get no easy answer. “We were able to look at each other and consider what the multiple and myriad considerations were,” Cohn said by way of explaining how the NAACP, the San Francisco Unified School District and lawyers for a group of Chinese-American students reached a settlement that would extend the consent decree ordering court oversight by another 18 months. “Why do you need me to tell the school district to do its job?” a skeptical Alsup asked after Cohn’s speech. “You lawyers have talked, and talked, and talked, and I’ve been disappointed.” Alsup expressed frustration that the decree � which had successfully integrated the schools by the late 1980s � was eviscerated by a settlement with lawyers for the Chinese-American students in 2001. That settlement prohibited the use of race in making school assignments, and � despite Alsup’s urging � lawyers for the parties have been unable to compromise on a new way to consider race in assigning schools. That settlement also set the consent decree � originally ordered by Judge William Orrick � to expire at the end of the year, unless Alsup extends it. He seemed reluctant to do so. “This district court has caused the re-segregation of San Francisco schools because of the Ho case,” Alsup said, referring to Ho v. S.F. Unified School District, 94-2418, which resulted in the 2001 settlement. “It bothers me that you want to continue a consent decree that’s going to perpetuate racial segregation.” Alsup was apparently not satisfied by the arguments of many San Francisco parents, students and activists who he had invited to voice their concerns. While many came with strong views and creative speeches � rhetorical tools included the invocation of weapons of mass destruction and a gratuitous, mid-speech “God Bless America” � few addressed specifically whether the decree in its current state is helping or hurting the schools. In the end, Alsup said, his decision will come down to whether a federal judge or the school district leadership is best positioned to deal with the desegregation issues. That’s a complicated decision, said Stuart Biegel, the consent decree monitor whose 2004 report pointed out that since the Ho decision, schools have become increasingly stratified by race. In his court filing supporting an extension of the consent decree, Biegel wrote that high turnover in school district leadership positions warrants continued oversight of integration efforts. “My sense is that things are very unsettled right now,” he said after the hearing. Whichever way Alsup rules, it will be with mixed feelings because of his belief that the integration effort has largely failed, he said. “Despite all the nice things you say,” he told the lawyers, “the court is being the engine for segregation.”

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