More than 200 elementary studens in two Montgomery County school clusters will voluntarily transfer within the clusters in September as part of a program to encourage desegregation by offering alternative educational programs in different schools.
The transfers are being viewed by some administrators as an indication that parental ties to neighborhood schools may be loosening. Strict allegiance to neighborhood schools has led, in the past, to vehement opposition to forced busing.
"It's sort of a break with the past," said Gilbert Valdez, head of the county's Office of Equal Educational Opportunity. "The neighborhood school is not the end-all for some parents. They're saying a bus ride to another school is fine."
This time last year, the Montgomery school system faced hated opposition to the first desegregation plan instituted in the county. Under that plan, which went into effect last September, more than 1,100 students from 27 elementary schools were bused to new schools. Most of the students involved were in the Rosemary Hills cluster.
Plans that go into effect this September will emphasize the "magnet school" concept, under which special programs or teaching methods are offered at different schools.
A revised student transfer policy encouraged parents to seek a different school for their children if it offered a program they preferred and if the transfer would not adversely affect racial balance. Transportation within the clusters is to be provided where feasible.
Schools in both the Rosemary Hills and Takoma Park clusters are affected. Of 222 transfers requested, all but 21 were approved. Each of the rejected applications involved schools outside the clusters and would have increased racial balance, school officials said.
Of the eight schools in the Rosemary Hills cluster, Rollingwood will receive the most transfer students, 15. Rock Creek Forest, which offers a bicultural program and an all-day kindergarten, will gain 15.
The highest number of students at as school who chose to transfer out was 13, from Rosemary Hills. All were minority students, which will help to improve the racial balance of that school. Chevy Chase was second in outgoing students, with nine transferring.
Of the seven schools in the Takoma Park cluster, Four Corners, which offers a program where children can speak French most of the school day, attracted the most school children, 26, East Silver Spring, which offers a program where students can progress at their own rate, was second, attracting 16.
Takoma Park, which will place emphasis on strengthening ties between family and school by having parents and community agency representatives help develop curricula, lost the most students in the cluster, 20.
"One very encouraging sign is that both minority and majority parents are choosing different schools," said Valdez, who added that in other areas of the county, minorities were usually reluctant to change their children's schools or only opted for more structured curricula.
Administrators say acceptance of the alternative program may eventually lead to a decrease in forced busing. The transfers may also have an effect on determining which schools will be closed under the system's policy of closing underutilized schools.
But results on both issues are not expected for awhile. The school board has allotted each cluster three years from the inception of desegregation to determine the viability of the desegregation plans.