Lowell’s voluntary desegregation and educational equity plan of 1987


We have all heard about Lowell’s “Voluntary” Court Settlement dealing with desegregation but most have never read it to see exactly what it states. If you read through it, you will see that up through 1995 the School System made changes to the agreement based on new schools coming on-line, schools closing and other issues. The School department has these forms available on-line.



I would argue that IF the Lowell School Dept. can show a plan to rezone the City and decrease the number of buses required while meeting the goals set for equal education for all, than the School Committee could vote to approve and send this change into the Dept. of Education for Approval.


It would be interesting to have someone go through this agreed upon settlement to see what has already been changed/modified/ignored and whether the city has kept all of their promises.

I’ve also found a couple of articles on-line that I felt had some historic information about what led to the settlement and what the results where for the city a year after.

I did NOT include the political climate or some of the other morbid details but you can link to these articles and read them for yourself.

Reading these details reminds us how far we have come but also how far we still have to go. It also reminds us that we have often faced a space for students as we are facing now in our middle schools.

Those that don’t learn from the past are destined to relive it!

Southeast Asian Parent Empowerment: The Challenge of Changing Demographics in Lowell,
Massachusetts Peter Nien-chu Kiang

In 1975 only 4% of Lowell’s school children were minorities. By 1987, however,
minorities made up 40% of the school-age population—half of them being limited-English proficient. As Southeast Asians continued to migrate to Lowell throughout 1987, as many as 35-50 new Southeast Asian students arrived and enrolled in school each week. Strains on the public school system quickly reached crisis proportions.

In response to the influx, the Lowell School Committee established makeshift classrooms in non-school facilities such as the Lowell Boys Club and Lowell YMCA. This process defacto segregated 170 Southeast Asian and Latino elementary age school children in buildings which lacked library and cafeteria facilities as well as principals and supervisory staff on site.

Overcrowded makeshift classrooms accommodated students who ranged from grades one to six. Partitions separated bilingual classes in Spanish, Lao, and Khmer. Special compensatory education classes were held in hallways where it was quieter. Spaces within existing school buildings such as the basement boiler room and an auditorium storage area of the Robinson School were also converted into classrooms.

A Lao bilingual class in the Daley School was even conducted in a converted bathroom which still had a toilet stall in it.

After three months of segregation in separate, unequal facilities,minority school children and their parents began to take action. The Latino parents had already seen the educational system take its toll on their children. While the Latino high school population had doubled from 200 to 400 between 1982 and 1987, the number of those who
successfully graduated had dropped from 76 to 55. Southeast Asian students had fared no better. Over half of the Lao students who entered Lowell High School in 1986-87 had dropped out by the end of the year.

For the Southeast Asian parents who had sacrificed and endured unspeakable hardships in order to provide their children with a chance for education and a better future, the conditions facing their children in school had become intolerable.

For eighteen months, from May 1987 through November 1988, Latino and Southeast Asian parents led efforts to demand equal access and equity for their children in the Lowell public schools. With organizing and technical assistance from Multicultural Education
Training and Advocacy (META) Inc., and a statewide bilingual parents network. Parents United in Education and the Development of Others (PUEDO), the parents convened joint meetings in four languages between the Hispanic Parents Advisory Committee (HPAC), the Cambodian Mutual Assistance Association of Greater Lowell and the Laotian Association of Greater Lowell to develop tactics and strategy. Eventually,a coalition of those organizations established the Minority Association for Mutual Assistance, affectionately known as MAMA

Eventually, the parents and students filed a lawsuit in federal district court against the Lowell School Committee and the City of Lowell on the basis of unconstitutional segregation of the Lowell Public Schools and the denial of equal education opportunities to students of limited English proficiency in violation of Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the Equal Education Opportunities Act of 1974

In the process, the parents developed a comprehensive 33-point program of education reform directed not only at desegregation and upgrading of facilities, but which also targeted issues of personnel hiring and training, curriculum reform, drop-out prevention, special education program development, and parent involvement. Furthermore, they demanded compensation and remediation for educational harms incurred by linguistic minority students placed in inappropriate classroom settings between 1984 and 1987.10

On November 9, 1988, after eighteen months of organizing and negotiations, the parents won their demands in an historic out-of-court settlement approved in a 6-1 vote by the
Lowell School Committee.”

The settlement was approved by the court in February 1989, and did not include monetary compensation for educational harms, although $80,000 in attorney’s fees and costs of $5,000 were awarded eventually in November 1989

1988 Desegregation in Massachusetts … annual report by Massachusetts Department of Education Office of Educational Equity


According to Education Week Lowell had the dubious distinction of the most racially divisive school board elections in the nation this past fall. The controversy
centered around the implementation of the system’s comprehensive school desegregation plan and its controlled choice assignment policy. Despite local tensions and
serious student transportation problems, the plan was successfully implemented. The major indicators of success have been:

• racial isolation has been reduced in each of the system’s 28 elementary and junior high schools

• there has been no white flight and the Index of Dissimilarity has decreased from 27.8 in 1986 to 18.4 in 1987 (nearly three times as much desegregation as was achieved in
Cambridge during its first year of controlled choice assignments);

• at least 92% of all new students received either their first, second, or third school
of choice;

• nearly 25 of the system’s elementary and junior high school students are voluntarily
enrolled in schools outside of their old neighborhood attendance areas;

« the number of students being transported increased only 9% as a result of the
controlled choice assignment policy;

« the student registration period for the second year of implementation is now into
its third month and 98% have received their first choices no school has been

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