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Officials to study effect of ruling on desegregation plans in Mass.

Roughly 20 Massachusetts school systems will work with the state to see whether their desegregation plans would be affected by yesterday's US Supreme Court ruling , state and local education officials said.

The court, while it shot down desegregation policies in Seattle and Jefferson County, Ky. , left open the possibility that race could be one of the factors considered under certain circumstances, such as compensating for the effects of past segregation in the South.

The ruling echoed across the Bay State, particularly in Lynn, which in 2005 won a high-profile federal lawsuit over its policy to deny student transfers if the move would upset a school's racial balance.

School officials said the effect of the high court's ruling in Massachusetts would depend on the specifics of each school system's plan. The state Department of Education approves the plans, and Education Commissioner David Driscoll said yesterday that he would adjust them as needed.

Yesterday, school systems with desegregation plans and the Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunity , a voluntary desegregation program that since 1966 has bused thousands of minority students in Boston and Springfield to suburban school systems, were plunged into uncertainty. Anticipating such a decision, a handful of school systems such as Boston's had amended their plans in recent years to exclude race.

But other school officials are reluctant to discard methods that strive for a balanced mix of students . They say integrated schools better prepare students to study, socialize, and work in a diverse world.

"To change something that you know has worked well for us for the past 20 years, it's kind of difficult to swallow that," said Lynn's superintendent, Nicholas Kostan . "We're just going to have to see where this leads us."

Lynn officials credit their assignment plan with soothing racial tensions and improving student achievement. The 14,500-student district hears about 85 appeals a year from transfers that have been rejected for racial-balance reasons, Kostan said.

Lawyer Chester Darling , who represented the parents who challenged Lynn's plan as unconstitutional, said he was ready to return to court because Lynn's policy was similar, in principle, to the policies the high court rejected. "We don't need Big Brother telling us diversity is good and you have to sit here and you have to sit there because you're black or white," he said.

Richard Cole , a former assistant attorney general who defended Lynn in the federal case, said a majority of justices yesterday acknowledged the merits of integration. But he said the court's ruling also makes it harder for school systems to justify using race as a factor for diversity alone. Lynn had been able to justify its program by analyzing other options first and documenting the program's success.

"It's going to require districts to do their homework very carefully" before implementing plans that use race as a factor, Cole said.

Many Massachusetts school systems like Lynn 's crafted their desegregation plans in the 1980s when the state promoted racial and ethnic integration in schools. For a time, the state paid for 90 percent of new school buildings if integration was a goal.

But in the 1990s, the climate shifted. Parents and others contended that students were being denied their choice of schools because of their skin color. Across the nation, courts released many school systems from court-ordered desegregation plans. In 1998, a federal court threw out the use of race in admissions to Boston's exam schools.

Now Massachusetts school systems with voluntary desegregation programs vary in their use of race as a factor in assignment plans. Four years ago, Cambridge made a student's family income a more prominent factor than race because courts nationally were ruling against race, said Superintendent Thomas Fowler-Finn.

Fowler-Finn said it troubled him that the new Cambridge plan did not necessarily prevent racial or ethnic segregation in some schools.

"Unfortunately I think the Supreme Court decision puts [race] in a less prominent role," he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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