It was a scene to give parents misty eyes.
In the far bleachers of the John Marshall High School football field, the senior class was arranged in formation, girls in white graduation caps and gowns, boys in red ones, spelling out the word EXCEL in block letters.
The band, softly lighted by a mellow late-afternoon sun, was playing "You'll Never Walk Alone," and out in the parking lot cars were decked out with streamers and signs that said "Class of '80 -- Breakout!"
It was an almost perfect piece of American pageantry, this graduation, except for the bitter feelings that lingered after the school's first year of desegragation through busing.
"DESEG SUCKS," one senion had scrawled in soap on the rear window of his Chevrolet Impala.
Families vented their anger as they gathered on the blacktop before the ceremony.
"Busing -- that's the problem," said the father of one senior. "You can't learn on a bus. The kids spent an hour in their home rooms waiting for the buses to arrive from the East Side."
We've moved our sixth-grader to parochial school," added his wife. "But it isn't just the busing; the whole curriculum's deteriorated."
"Well, at least the busing was good for the track team," cracked one white senior.
John Marshall, located in a West Side Cleveland residential area, looks more like a suburban school than a city facility. Blacks made up only 8 percent of the student body until a year ago.
But last fall the Cleveland school system began the first phase of a long-delayed, court-ordered desegration. John Marshall was picked as one of the first schools in the plan, and black enrollment jumped to 50 percent.
The resulting tensions are a reminder of how far the nation still has to go in the long and painful process of school desegregation.
In Cleveland, that process has been taken out of the hands of the school board by a federal judge who last week found the board and the school system's top officials in civil contempt of court. After a six-week hearing on foul-ups during Cleveland's partial desegregatioin last fall, U.s. dIstrict Court Judge Frank J. Battisti stripped the board of virtually all desegregation powers and said he would appoint an administrator to oversee systemwide desegregation this fall.
Despite Battisti's ruling, board president John Gallagher Jr. is not optimistic that the school system can meet its September target date for desegregation.
Twenty-six years after the Supreme Court declared school segregation unconstitutional, separate education for blacks and whites still predominates outside the South. Three out of four northern black children still attend what in the language of the educational systems are termed "radically isolated" -- meaning mostly black -- facilities.
The Republican platform adopted at the party's convention in Detroit declares that "we must halt forced busing and get on with the education of all our children."
But civil rights lawyers say it would be difficult for any administration to stem the tide of busing decisions, given the Supreme Court's recent record of approving busing as a remedy to correct segregation.
In fact, the busing precedent has been broadened by a number of decisions that have approved city-surburban transfers across school district lines.
For example, courts have ordered suburbs included in busing plans adopted in Indianapolis, Wilimington and Louisville. A Justice Department motion to move ahead with a metropolitan desegregation plan in Houston recently was turned down, but appeals are being studied.
Dayton and Columbus have adopted desegregtion plans within the last five years, and efforts to shape similar plans for Chicago and Detroit are continuing.
This fall a limited desegregation plan involving busing is scheduled to take effect in St. Louis, where three out of four children are black. And the NAACP is considering seeking a wider, metropolitan desegregation order later.
The Cleveland controversy was launched in 1973 when the NAACP sued the school board.
For years, school authorities had fended off proposals for desegregation by arguing that the black and white communities had been divided naturally by geography -- specifically, by the Cuyahoga River -- rather than by any policy of the city government. About two out of three of Cleveland's 89,000 public school children are black, and most live on the east side of the river.
In August 1976, Judge Battisti ruled for the NAACP. Under the desegregation plan that is being implemented now, each Cleveland student can expect to spend half his 12 years of public education in a neighborhood school and the other half in a school to which he is bused.
Some 16,000 children were being bused when school ended last week. This number is expected to rise sharply when the final phase of the desegregation program goes into effect in September.
Given the sharp geographical division of white and black children in Cleveland, officials see no alternative to busing to relieve desegregation. Yet it is clear that this is a remedy that is no more popular among blacks than whites.
"Ninety percent of the kids are for desegregation and 90 percent are opposed to busing," said a teacher at Central Junior High School, which was desegregated last March.
Centeral student Cynthia Johnson, who is black, says she likes desegregation "because I like to meet different people than my own." But a few months ago, she says, she was chased by white teen-agers carrying sticks and stones and she is fearful that hatred between the races may explode in violence.
Evelyn Simmons, who lives in all-black East Side public housing development, says she "would rather go to jail than send my children to West Side schools." She worries about the long bus ride and physical safety -- concerns similar to those of whites.
There have been a few confirmed racial incidents in the first year of desegregation. The night before blacks arrived by bus at John Marshall last fall, somebody with a spelling problem wrote "Kill Nigers" on the side of the building. School officials quickly had it painted over. Shortly before school ended this year at Central, two black students threatened to take over a white teacher's class and warned they would "kick your honky ass."
But such incidents have been rare and desegregation generally has proceeded peacefully.
When whites and blacks here talk about desegregation they tend to direct most of their anger at the school board and administration, rather than at members of the other race.
"It isn't desegregation that we're mad about, but the way it's been handled," said a John Marshall senior who said he was particularly angry at the principal for taking away a traditional privilege of the senior class -- its own cafeteria. Seniors were not covered by the desegregation plan and school officials feared that a cafeteria used only by the mostly white senior class would cause problems.
Critics of the board say that the delays, snafus and public statements by board members have set back chances for the school system to emerge in good shape from its desegregation experience.
Board members and school officials deny they are at fault and insist that they are doing the best job they can under the duress of labor problems and money shortages they say were caused by decisions made years ago, over which they had no control.
In January the NAACP suggested that the school system be placed in partial receivership while the court's orders were being enforced. Battisi accepted that suggestion in his ruling last week.
The Justice Department, which joined the NAACP suit, is also seeking the removal of the school official in charge of desegregation.
Battisti, in twice granting long delays in starting desegregation, sharply criticized the school board's "deplorable lack of preparedness," procrastination," "aimless administration" and "lack of will to desegregate."
To ease the impact of desegregation and persuade middle-class families to keep their children in the system, "the judge ordered, in February 1978, far-reaching educational improvements to accompany the busing program. These were to include reading, counseling, extracurricular activities, student rights, expanded testing and community education.
But earlier this year a court-appointed special master filed a 49-page brief listing the school board's numerous failures to carry out the educational improvements. The required student discipline code was "incomplete and partially handwritten," schools had been closed without permission from the court and a mandated study of the disparity between the reading scores of whites and blacks had not been conducted.
Another charge leveled against the board by the Office of School Monitoring, which oversees the desegregation for the court, is that federal funds that are supposed to aid the process have been misspent. The bulk of them have gone to such things as safety and security, instead of to reading and counseling, it charges.
Earlier this year the school board distributed an informational packet to parents explaining the busing procedures.
A professional analysis of these materials found that they required reading skills commensurate with 13.3 years of schooling -- far more than the Cleveland average -- according to Nancy Oakley, an outspoken public critic of the board.
Such examples, say Oakley and other critics, show that a serious communication gap exists between the school bureaucracy and the community.
For their part, school leaders frequently blame "interference" by the federal court for the problems. And even critics of the board acknowledge that a sort of war of personalities has developed between Judge Battisti and members of the school board and administration.
"Battisti is made the fall guy for everything," says Joanne DeMarco, vice president of the teachers' union and leader of a reform faction that favors improvements in school conditions as well as higher pay for the teachers.
School board president Gallagher has testified that it is "clear community doesn't agree with" Battisti's order. Suspicions that Gallagher and his allies oppose desegregation were strengthened in April, when the board filled a vacancy with a woman who had opposed the NAACP's busing suit.
Gallagher has stated publicly that white enrollment will drop from 35 percent to 15 percent if the order is carried out, a remark that some parents say has deepened the anxieties of white families.
"There's white flight," he said in an interview.
There also are reports that large numbers of white children being bused to the East Side never go to school, and other rumors that some of these children are living with relatives in the suburbs and attending school there.
"There's just no data to suggest this is happening," said Leonard Stevens, who was appointed by the court to monitor the desegregation program. "But there is no evidence either behind the assertion that it's not happening."
Bishop James A. Hickey, head of the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland -- who recently was appointed to the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. -- had taken a strong position in favor of the desegregation plan and ordered that city's thriving parochial school system not accept white children who obviously were being enrolled to avoid busing.
Stevens hopes that inflation and rising housing costs may discourage some middle-class whites from fleeing to the suburbs to avoid the program.
Hugh Clakins, an attorney and former school board member, advocates as an alternative to busing the creation of a new countywide school system in which magnet schools would draw both black and white students and accomplish desegregation voluntarily.
He contends that this would introduce competition between schools for students and would give parents "the sense that they've chosen their schools rather than that they've been coerced."
However, Calkins acknowledges that his idea does not yet have extensive backing. William Caldwell, a St. Louis attorney who has worked with the NAACP on school suits, calls the magnet school concept a "cop out."
"It doesn't accomplish the task," he said.
Even after all this conflict between the grown-ups in authority in Cleveland, it is evident that many children, black and white, still maintain their idealism about racial cooperation. But they are skeptical that their ideals will be realized soon.
As Central Junior High student Tamara Horne put it: "When is the time going to come when I won't get stared down 'cause I'm black and walking with a white?"