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Md. District Asks Court To End Busing

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Joining a lengthening list of districts embracing a return to neighborhood schools, the Prince George's County, Md., school board will seek court approval to abandon busing for racial balance.

Advocates of neighborhood schools in Pittsburgh, meanwhile, were buoyed by the recent passage of legislation aimed at stripping civil rights agencies and state courts of power to order student busing.

And in Orlando, Fla., a federal judge approved the Orange County district's request to stop busing 3,700 students and let them attend neighborhood elementary schools instead.

In Prince George's County, the school board voted unanimously last month to ask U.S. District Judge Peter J. Messitte to approve a $346 million plan for ending race-based busing and upgrading neighborhood schools--and to order the state and county to pay for it.

Board members also agreed to ask the judge to declare the district "unitary," a legal term signifying that it has largely eradicated the traces of past discrimination and therefore no longer requires court oversight.

The board believes its plan would clear the way for such a ruling. The wide-ranging proposal involves building and expanding schools countywide and sharply reducing class sizes at schools with many poor students.

School officials argue that busing more than 11,000 students for integration makes little sense now that the 120,000-student district in suburban Washington is 72 percent African-American.

Court Review Planned

The board's action was triggered by Judge Messitte's announcement last month that he will name experts to study the Prince George's district for a year and advise him on the court's role there.

"Rather than just have him review it blindly, we told him what we want," said Marcy C. Canavan, the board's president.

Another factor in the board's decision were pledges from Gov. Parris N. Glendening and County Executive Wayne K. Curry to support funding for the neighborhood schools plan.

Hardi Jones, the president of the Prince George's branch of the NAACP, expressed skepticism about the board's plan but said he hoped the group could eventually support it. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People initiated the desegregation lawsuit in 1972.

Pittsburgh Affected

In Pennsylvania, Republican Gov. Tom Ridge signed legislation that largely prohibits courts, the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, or other agencies from requiring districts to bus children beyond their neighborhood schools.

The law was the brainchild of busing opponents in Pittsburgh, which is under court orders to follow the human-relations panel's racial-balance guidelines. The district says it does not know how many of its 40,000 students are bused solely for integration.

The school board has not discussed altering its desegregation plan in response to the law, a spokeswoman said. Board members considered a plan to scrap most busing last spring, but sharply scaled it back after an outcry from civil rights groups.

In Orlando, U.S. District Judge Anne C. Conway gave her blessing to a plan to redraw Orange County school boundaries to end busing affecting 20 elementary schools. Some 2,300 students will continue to be bused, most of them blacks attending predominantly white schools.

The ruling came after NAACP lawyers signed off on the plan on the grounds that migration of blacks to formerly white neighborhoods had made existing busing patterns untenable. Some local NAACP leaders had protested, however, saying the changes promoted resegregation.

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