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Magistrate wants busing suits stopped

Parents suing to alter Hillsborough's new school desegregation plan have promised to fight on despite a federal magistrate's recent finding that the parents' lawsuits in state court should be squelched.

U.S. Magistrate Charles Wilson on Tuesday signed a 15-page report and recommendation stating that injunctions should be issued prohibiting any state judicial or administrative interference with the federal court-approved busing plan.

"It's a pretty damaging recommendation if it's approved," said John MacKay, attorney for the Timberlane parents. "It leaves my people totally without redress. But we'll see what we can do."

U.S. District Judge Elizabeth Kovachevich, who last year approved a compromise plan that would redraw school districts and reduce the number of students bused for racial purposes, still must finalize Wilson's recommended order.

MacKay said he will try to convince Kovachevich to reject or modify Wilson's report. One case MacKay plans to cite is that of Lee County, where U.S. District Judge Wm. Terrell Hodges allowed a state court challenge of the way the school district adopted its busing plan to proceed.

School Board officials, on the other hand, welcomed Wilson's report.

"I think it affirms the way we've felt all along," school spokeswoman Donna Reed said.

Supporters say the plan allows most students to attend schools closer to their homes, and progress through 12 grades with the same group of classmates. It would "cluster" students around four-year high schools and three-year middle schools.

But the Timberlane parents hired MacKay and challenged the procedure by which the School Board adopted the plan last year, saying it violated Government-in-the-Sunshine laws. That challenge is pending in the state Department of Administrative Hearings.

In a separate lawsuit in Hillsborough Circuit Court, MacKay argued that the busing of their children 15 miles to inner-city elementary schools violated their right to privacy.

About 2,000 students from 11 suburban areas will be bused into the inner city as part of a compromise that resulted in the cluster plan.

At a hearing in front of Wilson last month, attorneys for both the School Board and the NAACP Legal Defense fund called the parents' lawsuits meritless interference with desegregation plans.