Monthly Archives: February 2020

From the Memoirs of Alvin Dorfman – Part 8: Malverne School Busing (3)

In addition to the usual papers submitted in any lawsuit, I prepared a brief entitled “Media and Organizational Response” in which we argued that important members and constituencies of the community were supportive of the black community in this lawsuit, including all of the local clergy, the New York and Long Island daily newspapers, the local radio stations, the teachers’ unions, and the American Jewish Congress. An amicus brief from the American Jewish Congress would, we hoped, call attention to the fact that the head of the Board of Regents (in effect the immediate superior of the Commissioner of Education) was a prominent member of the AJC.

It was very difficult to figure out the school district’s position. On the one hand they were opposed to our application but, on the other hand, they made the same arguments we did, calling upon the Commissioner to support our request for the funding of intra-district busing as an “ordinary contingent expense.” Obviously the district was trying to appease its constituents while at the same time conceding that our arguments were correct.

The attorney for the school district was the former lawyer for the Commissioner of Education and had worked for the Education Commission for a number of years, having only left that office a few weeks before. His representation of the school district in this matter therefore seemed a clear conflict of interest. The attorney for the N.A.A.C.P., after consulting with me, requested his recusal but I don’t believe any action was taken on that request. But, in general, relations with the N.A.A.C.P. were not so amicable. The March 1978 issue of their Rockville Centre/Lakeview branch published a lead article asserting that they were pursuing legal action against the Malverne School District and that certain concerned citizens (my clients) were also pursuing legal action. In this article the N.A.A.C.P. claimed that they had tried to get along “amiably” with my clients but that we had never contacted their attorney or responded to any communications from their organization so that, because of our “aggravating” behavior, they had decided to go it alone. Not a word of this was true but the branch president of the N.A.A.C.P. refused to make a move to disavow this article without the consent of the Chairperson, and she was uncooperative.

A few months after the initial papers were filed, members of the community and I attended a hearing in Albany before the Commissioner. As we set off by bus, the ten or so clergy—white, black, Jew, and Gentile—who stood by the bus, prayed for the success of our effort. I was so moved I almost cried. I must say that in all the human rights struggles I have participated, I have never witnessed such camaraderie and love.
In Albany we met with our local State Senator, asking for his support of our application. He took me off to the side and said words to the effect, “Alvin, you know I can’t do such a thing; it’s very controversial.” And when the Commissioner granted our application, ordering the school district to pay for busing all students living more than eight tenths of a mile from school, (calling it “an ordinary contingent expense”), He introduced legislation calling for the State to pick up the “transportation tab” for the integration of the school district, thereby making himself the hero of the white community. Obviously, he had no shame. If he had proposed this legislation in the first place the whole proceeding and controversy could have been avoided.

The community held a victory celebration and about four hundred people attended a wonderful dinner at the Freeport Yacht Club. My wife shared in my happiness, having also sacrificed for the cause, since I had put in hundreds and hundreds of hours on the case. Very few lawsuits that I handled seemed to work out so perfectly and to bring as much joy as this one. Representing the Lakeview Community was a two-way street. I believe I gave them zealous representation and, in turn, I had the wonderful feeling of having done an effective and devoted job.

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From the Memoirs of Alvin Dorfman – Part 7: Malverne School Busing (2)

I discovered that the New York State Chairperson of the N.A.A.C.P. was concerned that I might be taking some of the “glory” away from her organization so I called her to try to allay her fears. However, it didn’t take long for me to realize that her motives were not the same as mine; she was only concerned with how it would “look” if the Civil Liberties Union rather than the N.A.A.C.P. brought the action. I told her this wouldn’t be a problem, that I would be willing to handle the case in the name of the N.A.A.C.P. and the Civil Liberties Union. This didn’t seem to make things better and she told me she would think about my proposal. I told her that I was planning to file my papers the following Monday.

She had her lawyers work fast and they filed papers on the Friday before my scheduled filing. She was hoping to get the publicity out of this case at the expense of the Civil Liberties Union but, despite her best efforts, it didn’t work out that way. The N.A.A.C.P. papers were abysmal. They misstated the facts of the case and sought relief that made no sense. The attorney for the N.A.A.C.P. was quite bright but he wasn’t given adequate time to put together a decent set of papers. Had the NYS Commissioner of Education taken these papers seriously, they would have undermined the position of the black residents of the Malverne School District. But, as it turned out, the papers were so bad that the Commissioner decided to disregard the submission from the N.A.A.C.P. entirely. As a practical matter, their lawyer became completely dependent upon me to “lead the charge.”

Our initiating petition set forth the history of the school district and the racism of the white community in discontinuing the busing for the Lakeview students which, we argued, was part of the larger agreed-upon plan for racial integration. We claimed the black students suffered great hardships, having, for example, to cross wide avenues on their way to school, to walk across the Long Island Railroad tracks, and to walk in all kinds of inclement weather. The kids often arrived at school half frozen or wet and sometimes had to miss school altogether. At times they were dependent on getting to school by a private bus which wasn’t a bus at all but only a van in which up to twenty kids were crammed. Moreover, neither of the two elementary schools served lunch and there was no time for the black students to go back and forth to their homes for lunch. As a result, we claimed, by placing this intolerable burden of integration exclusively on the black community it was acting in an unacceptable, immoral, unlawful, and unconstitutional manner and was denying the black children the best of educational opportunities and the opportunity to develop to their full potential. In essence, their actions constituted a denial of equal educational opportunities.

It took a long time to figure out what relief we were actually going to ask for. Clearly, we would ask that the district be required to fund busing just the way the State did from 1967 to 1971. We called on the Commissioner of Education to find that the requested transportation constituted an “ordinary contingent expense” within the meaning of Section 202.3 of the Education law which would, in effect, require the district to provide the busing at the expense of the taxpayers of the district. We also decided to “scare the pants off” the larger white community.

If the Commissioner did not think he could force the local taxpayers to pay for the reinstitution of the original busing plan, we requested that the original Princeton Plan (as recommended by the Commissioner in 1963) to be reinstituted, i.e. that the Lakeview School be reopened and that the kids in the entire school district therefore attend all three schools. There was no doubt in our minds that this was the last thing in the world that the larger white community wanted. Alternately, we suggested they remedy the situation by reopening the Lakeview School and closing one of the two other schools so that the white kids would be “bussed into” the black neighborhood. We were sure the white community wouldn’t like that either.

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From the Memoirs of Alvin Dorfman – Part 6: Malverne School Busing (1)

I became deeply involved in the Malverne School Busing Case after receiving a telephone call from the Executive Director of the Nassau Chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union. A group of residents of the Malverne School District (officially known as the Union Free School District #12 of the Town of Hempstead) had been to her office to complain about the lack of school busing for the essentially black community of Lakeview which was part of the Malverne School District. Though she had advised them that the law was far from clear and that there was a good chance they would lose any legal proceeding they brought, they were still willing to take their chances. She called me because I had some familiarity with the matter since, at the request of the American Jewish Congress, I had previously prepared an amicus brief on behalf of a number of local clergy who had supported the original concept of integrating the Malverne School District. In addition, I was the head of the Long Island Coordinating Committee for Civil Rights and, in that capacity, had worked in the Malverne District with local people supporting integration and with an organization called UCAN (United Committee for Action Now).

The legal history of the school district and the underlying facts in the case were quite complex. The Malverne School District consisted of three elementary schools, one in northern Lynbrook, one in the Village of Malverne itself, and one in the unincorporated area of Lakeview, the only area of the three which was not lily white but, in fact, almost entirely black. In 1963 NYS Education Commissioner James Allen had ordered the District to institute the “Princeton Plan” which divided the three schools into different grade levels in order to force integration. But because the parents from north Lynbrook and the Village of Malverne did not want their children to attend the Lakeview school (in the black neighborhood), they took the matter all the way to the United States Supreme Court. The court, however, upheld Allen’s order.

As a result, in 1967 a compromise was reached which closed the Lakeview school but provided busing to all students who lived six tenths of a mile or more away from school. The black community agreed to this compromise, agreeing to suffer the exclusive burden of racial integration as a magnanimous act of social and civic responsibility to avoid the continuing tumult, essentially in order to “keep the peace.” But despite the fact that the intra-district busing was an essential ingredient of this amended integration plan, in 1971 the State of New York withdrew assistance for transportation in the district; the district taxpayers followed by rejecting any payment for the busing even though the cost to the individual taxpayer would have amounted to no more than about thirteen dollars per year. In response the federal government proposed abandoning the three-school plan and paying for the building of a large elementary school, to be provided free of charge but in a referendum the local residents voted this down. The local community went on to vote down budgets or resolutions calling for the resumption of district-supported transportation another nine times.

In now pursuing a lawsuit against the Malverne School District, we would have to argue that the intra-district busing had been part of an integration agreement and order and, as a result, the busing was required, whether the community liked it or not. I met with the group and we decided to give the case our best shot even though victory was not at all certain. I was to be a cooperating attorney with the Nassau Chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union and it goes without saying that this was a pro bono case. The group bringing the suit consisted of about twenty residents (if I remember correctly, seventeen were black and three were white) with whom I would meet every ten days or so. These clients were absolutely unusual. They got along without any arguments, seemed to like each other (and even me!), and everybody pitched in to help.

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