From AP - News Headlines -

Consent Decree Hearing Reveals Resolve, Some Skepticism

What could be one of the final court hearings on the Champaign school district's consent decree is uncovering some doubt over a proposed settlement.

A federal judge invited written public comment on the proposal that would end seven years of court supervision over racial equity issues in Unit 4. On Tuesday, some of those commenters testified in person.

Before those people spoke, Champaign superintendent Arthur Culver answered a concern from Judge Joe Billy McDade that the public skepticism may stem from what happens in individual school - in other words, some staff may revert back to old habits or not share the same concern for equity.

I think it's clear that we're serous about this work," said Culver. "If our staff members aren't coming to work with the same vision and mission that we have set for this district, then there are consequences."

Part of the settlement includes a new committee to oversee future equity issues, such as alternative education or student assignment. Ardice James, with the National Council of African American Men worries that the Education Equity Excellence committee may not have any teeth.

"Who would this committee report to?" asked James. "I feel that this committee should report to the board and more or less be advisory. I also believe that any recommendation that this committee proposes, that the Board of Education should consider that recommendation very strongly."

But Carol Ashley, an attorney for the plaintiffs whose suit led to the consent decree, says that committee will be guided by a third party. It's not known when Judge McDade will decide to accept or deny the settlement.

The hearing was a rare event for a federal court in central Illinois. After initially ruling that television crews could videotape the courtroom hearing -- a rarity in the federal court system -- Judge Mc Dade responded to complaints from radio newspaper reporters and opened recording to all media. McDade told reporters before the hearing that he had made a mistake in believing he was approving one station's request to broadcast the entire hearing live, and he opened the hearing up to all recording devices out of fairness.