political opposition to integration throughout New York State eventually exerted enough pressure on the Regents and on SED officials as to cause them to become cautious and reactive on the issue of desegregation.
During the 1960's and early 1970's, State education officials actively set about to bring an end to the racial imbalance that existed in the New York public schools. The Regents strongly endorsed school desegregation in the racial integration policy statements of 1960, 1963, 1968 and 1972. YBE Exhs. 3-1; 3-2; 3-7; 3-12. The SED, under Commissioner Nyquist, did not hesitate to enforce the racial integration policy in connection with § 310 appeals from private citizens. In each of these proceedings, Commissioner Nyquist found that de facto segregation existed and sought to institute remedial measures. Moreover, the SED under Nyquist took steps to formulate a comprehensive plan of affirmative state intervention in school districts that exhibited a high degree of de facto segregation. YBE Exhs. 16-46(A),(B),(D),(E). The activist tenor of the SED's position during these years is perhaps best captured in a report on State integration initiatives written by an SED staff member in 1972. Concerning the Albany school district, the staff member wrote, "no citizen has ever appealed for the correction of racial imbalance, but Albany should not for that reason be neglected." YBE Exh. 16-50 at 4.
By 1969, however, opposition to non-voluntary means to achieve racial integration in the schools -- and to racial integration itself -- had swelled to the point where the New York State Legislature enacted Chapter 342, a law that prohibited State education officials, as well as local school districts with appointed school boards, from assigning students for the purpose of achieving racial balance or of taking other desegregative actions. Although the statute was ultimately declared unconstitutional, as violative of the Equal Protection Clause, see Lee v. Nyquist, 318 F. Supp. 710 (W.D.N.Y. 1970) (three judge court), aff'd, 402 U.S. 935, 29 L. Ed. 2d 105, 91 S. Ct. 1618 (1971), the attitude of the State Legislature was clear. Indeed, even after Chapter 342 was struck down, the Legislature continued to debate and pass bills and resolutions that were similar to Chapter 342 in their purpose and intended effect. See, e.g., YBE Exhs. 7-21(A)-(E); 7-22; 7-28; 7-37.
Following the invalidation of Chapter 342, the State took measures that had the cumulative effect of undermining efforts to reduce school segregation. In 1971, the Legislature eliminated the Racial Balance Fund, which was the source of funding to assist communities in undertaking the expensive task of desegregating their schools, and refused each year thereafter to reinstate the Fund despite annual requests to do so from State education officials. The elimination of the Fund deprived State officials of one of the few positive inducements they had to encourage local acts of desegregation, and thereby weakened their efforts to implement the Regents' racial integration policy. YBE Exh. 16-62 at 2; Campbell Dep. at 43-45; Tr. 90-91 (Sheldon).
Changes were also taking place in the composition of the Board of Regents due to the accession to the Board of new Regents, interviewed prior to appointment by legislators (a new practice), who were known to be hostile to vigorous desegregation efforts.
In February, 1974, a law was passed that shortened the Regents' term of office from fifteen to seven years in order to make them more "accountable" to elected officials and their constituents. YBE Exh. 10-13; Tr. 2545 (Griffith). In the summer of the same year, the Regents, prodded by criticism of Commissioner Nyquist's vigorous desegregation efforts, see, e.g.,, YBE Exh. 10-15, undertook a reexamination of their 1972 racial integration policy statement. That reexamination resulted in revised policy statements that diluted the pro-desegregation force of the 1972 statement.
In at least two instances, individual Regents interceded in Commissioner Nyquist's § 310 proceedings to plead the case for less drastic desegregation orders. See YBE Exhs. 12-20; 12-21; Defendants' Exhs. 6H; 6I. And the Regents as a whole, out of a concern to rein in Nyquist's desegregation efforts, see YBE Exh. 12-25 at 1; Defendants' Exh. 6K at 1, 3, lobbied for legislation providing for stricter judicial review of the Commissioner's § 310 orders. YBE Exh. 12-71. That legislation became law in 1976.
Finally, in November, 1976, the Regents fired Commissioner Nyquist. The YBE and NAACP sought to prove at trial that he was fired because of his vigorous stance on integration, while the State argued that relations between Nyquist and the Regents had so deteriorated that his continued service was unacceptable. Indeed, there is ample evidence that Nyquist's dealings with some Regents was high-handed and offensive and that, to a considerable extent, he precipitated his own removal. In all, we find that the plaintiffs have not proven that Nyquist would not have been fired but for his views on integration. We do find, however, that his views on this subject were a substantial factor leading to his discharge.
In the years following Nyquist's removal, the furor over desegregation died down to a considerable extent. And with good reason: Nyquist's successor, Gordon Ambach, was not presented with any § 310 appeals from private citizens; and, in accordance with the practice of his predecessors, he did not initiate any § 310 proceedings sua sponte. Tr. 1412 (Ambach). With respect to the § 310 appeals he inherited from Commissioner Nyquist, there is evidence to suggest that Commissioner Ambach eventually issued orders that were less stringent, from a remedial standpoint, than the orders initially fashioned by Commissioner Nyquist. See Defendants' Exhs. C-27 & C-28 (Ambach extended by one year the time that the Rockville Centre school district had to begin integrating its elementary schools; Nyquist had previously denied an extension); C-46 & C-47 (Ambach allowed Syracuse to delay the integration of three elementary schools).
There is little doubt in the Court's view that the State's gradual retrenchment from its once strong school desegregation policy, as just outlined, was motivated by a growing antipathy to desegregation on the part of the New York State Legislature. To be sure, the debate that was being conducted during these years was cast in terms of being for or against busing. The evidence is clear, however, that "busing" was a symbol for integration. Busing, after all, was common in many areas of the State for reasons having nothing to do with matters of race (e.g., for the purpose of school centralization programs). While there were those who raised good-faith questions as to the conditions under which busing should take place, the furor over busing per se cannot be explained on any non-racial grounds.
What is more, this growing antipathy to desegregation did not go unnoticed by the SED officials charged with promoting school desegregation. There was testimony, which the Court finds credible, that these SED officials regarded the Regents' revisions of the 1972 policy statement, their support of stricter review of the Commissioner's § 310 orders, and their firing of Commissioner Nyquist as part of an effort to retreat from the commitment to school desegregation. Campbell Dep. at 48-49, 101-02; Tr. 147-48, 212 (Sheldon); Tr. 884-86, 916-17 (Keyes). There was testimony that SED officials perceived the Legislature to be making appointments of Regents with the racial integration policy in mind. Tr. 108-09 (Sheldon). And, perhaps most importantly, there was testimony that these impressions on the part of SED officials had the effect of making them slow down and proceed more cautiously in their desegregation efforts. See, e.g., Tr. 916-19 (Keyes).
To sum up: the State had the power to act in support of school desegregation in Yonkers, but it lost the will to act. And it lost the will to act for the simple reason that its once touted principles of racial equality in the schools had become politically untenable.
5. The Effect on Yonkers of the State's Failure to Intervene
The State's failure to intervene in Yonkers impacted the City in several ways. The most obvious impact, of course, is that Yonkers was not forced to desegregate its schools. There is every reason to believe that had the State brought its coercive powers to bear in Yonkers, Yonkers would have complied with its directions. See Deposition of Gerald L. Freeborne, Dated October 30, 1990, at 103;
Tr. 1625-28 (Raymond); Tr. 2249 (Stone); Tr. 2784 (Genrich).
The second impact on Yonkers was more subtle, but equally real. There is evidence that when the State failed to intervene in Yonkers, either coercively or by way of positive inducements, it altered the balance of power between the forces in Yonkers favoring reform and the forces in Yonkers opposing reform. For example, the response to SED official Morton Sobel's rather tepid call to action in 1971 (recounted supra p. 21) was a "mixed bag":
There were people that were delighted that they didn't have to deal with the issue [of desegregation], that it seemed as though it wasn't imperative. There were others that were very disappointed such as I was that we didn't get more specific information from him regarding help. Both ends.
Tr. 405 (Siragusa).
In October, 1975, the YBE authorized the formation of a task force to develop a plan for desegregating the Yonkers schools. The task force urgently requested financial aid from the SED, YBE Exhs. 17-54; 17-68; 17-71, and the SED quickly promised roughly $ 80,000 in funding. However, the SED was unable to furnish any money until May, 1976, and then only $ 13,000. YBE Exhs. 17-56 at 2; 17-81; Tr. 303-05, 307, 344 (Ross). This lack of funding hindered the efforts of the task force, Tr. 1138 (Jacobson), and delayed the presentation of its recommendations to the YBE. And this delay, in turn, enabled opposition to the reform efforts to coalesce to a point where the YBE became hostile to the very desegregation initiative it had originally commissioned. Tr. 313-14, 321-22 (Ross); Tr. 439-41 (Siragusa).
Finally, in 1978, when the Yonkers community was considering the desegregation plan of then-Superintendent Joseph Robitaille, an influential Yonkers taxpayers association that opposed the plan had the following to say about the possibility of State intervention should the plan be rejected:
The State Department of Education is the other governmental agency able, by means of funding, to force an integration plan on the school board. This agency, however, after going through a period marked by particularly zealous integration directives, is modifying its approach. Last spring, the former commissioner of education Ewald Nyquist, was dismissed because of his singleminded pursuit of desegregation throughout the state by busing and other means whether or not warranted. It is now obvious that the Board of Regents is taking a more cautious view of integration cases and directives. . . . It is clear that busing for integration purposes is out of favor even at the state level, and that there is very little likelihood that the commissioner [Ambach] would mandate a forced busing program on the city of Yonkers. . . .