School Closings Based on Race, Parents Claim

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Maryland's state board of education has been asked to decide whether a local school board's selection of schools to be closed over the next two years was intended to thwart integration.

But no matter which way the state board rules, the case is expected to end up in court.

Montgomery County, a Washington suburb nationally recognized for the high quality of its public schools, was one of the first and largest districts in the country to adopt an integration plan without having been ordered to do so.

'Clustered' Schools

About 24 percent of the county's 100,000 students are black, Asian, or Hispanic, and most of the minorities live in the southern corner of the county near the District of Columbia line. Some of the schools in that section of the county are now "clustered" with schools in predominantly white neighborhoods, and students are bused both ways to achieve integration.

But over the past six years, the old liberal coalition on the board that promoted the integration efforts has gradually been replaced by more conservative members who campaigned for office on promises to end ''forced busing." With the 1980 election, the conservatives secured five of the seven board seats.

Racial Isolation Increased

Overriding the recommendations of Superintendent J. Edward Andrews, the board voted last fall to close six schools in predominantly nonwhite neighborhoods and to redraw attendance boundaries in a way that critics claim will increase racial isolation in the system and place the burden of integration solely on minority students.

Parents from the area are contesting the decision, alleging that the closings were motivated by an intent to resegregate the system.

A study of the proposed closings, commissioned by the American Civil Liberties Union, concluded that "the pattern of school closings tells integrated neighborhoods that only predominantly white or predominantly minority neighborhoods can be certain of keeping their neighborhood schools."

The closings, lawyers for the parents argued in a weeklong state hearing late last month, violate state law, the U.S. Constitution's equal-protection guarantee, and the Montgomery board's own policies on racial balance and school-closing criteria.

Conservative Majority

The school board's conservative majority, however, maintains that the schools were selected for closing in the interest of stability, economy, and maintaining neighborhood schools.

Mitchell J. Cooper, a Washington lawyer acting as state-appointed examiner during the hearing, last week said he will make a recommendation to the state board by the end of May. Mr. Cooper has already said he will not base his decision on the relative merits of neighborhood schools, one of the issues raised by the protesting parents, but will consider only whether the board's action was arbitrary and racially motivated.

The state board has the authority to overturn a local board's school-closing decisions, but has never done so.--P.C.

Vol. 01, Issue 24

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