The College Park PTA has filed suit against the Prince George's County Board of Education and the superintendent of schools, charging that the decision to close College Park Elementary School at 4601 Calvert Rd. in College Park was an "arbitrary and capricious action."
Lawyers representing the PTA have requested that the Prince George's County Circuit Court issue a permanent injunction restraining the board from taking any action to close the school.
Spokesmen for the board have said that this September's proposed closing of College Park and nine other elementary, schools is necessary to "meet the economic demands of declining enrollment." Board estimates show more than 20,000 empty elementary school seats in the county.
The PTA's suit charges that the board voted this April to close College Park Elementary School without considering the school's low per-pupil costs, its record of high academic achievement, and the probable increase in its enrollment due to the changing demographics of the area within wakling distance of the school.
Nor, the complaint alleges, did the board consider the $40,000 of bonded indebtedness that the county will have to assume if the school is closed (state education funds cover this cost for all operating public schools in Maryland).
The 16-page document also depicts the board's school-closing policy as "vague." This vagueness, the suit alleges, improperly delegated the board's authority to school superintendent Edward J. Feeny, by directing him to close schools without "specific guidelines, directives or standards."
Feeney, himself is accused of ignoring the board's order that "educational quality be maintained" because he refused to consider educational quality as a criteria for closing.
The board may soon be facing other suits from citizens concerned about the closing of about Ager Road and Glenn Dale elementary schools. Supporters of those schools have contacted lawyers and are actively considering taking separate actions against the board.
Those familiar with the cases of all three schools say there will probably be no problem showing that the school board acted "arbitrarily and capriciously," although some fear that Prince George's County's lack of an Administrative Practices Act may prove a snag in their cases.
During the College Park PTA discussions that preceeded the members' vote to sue, Leonard Goldstein, president of the PTA and a member of the law firm later retained by the association, warned that "while it may be possible to show that the board acted arbitrarily and capriciously, there's a chance that it's perfectly legal for the board to behave in that manner. County law does not require the board, or, for that matter, any county administrative body to act in a prescribed fashion."
"However," Goldstein added, "the board and the superintendent have created their own school closing criteria, and I think a case can be made by holding them to those (criteria)."
In the fall of 1976, the board asked the superintendent to devise a means of "meaningful community participation" in the school closing process.
Superintendent Feeney proposed community task forces. The forces were composed of five representatives from each school within a study area. The geographic boundaries of the areas the task forces would study and the criteria the groups could use in making a recommendation for closing were supplied by the superintendent and his staff.
By April when the task forces made their recommendations for school closings to the superintendent and he forwarded those recommendations to the board, the task forces and the school closings had become the hottest political issue to face the board since busing for racial balance.
Several board members voiced the hope that once the vote was taken to close schools and discussion ended, things might cool down.
But College Park PTA members showed the issue was still hot by voting 36 to 9 to retain counsel and sue the board.
Seven individuals have joined the PTA as plaintiffs against the board. Among them are College Park's mayor, St. Clair Reeves, and two daughters of the former county executive William F. Gullet, who are students at College Park.
Mayor Reeves has said that if the school can be kept open for one year its future will be secure. Within that year he expects the Department of Housing and Urban Developments' Lakeland Renewal project to be well underway.
The low-income housing project is expected to place more than 200 elementary school age children within walking distance of College Park Elementary School. Construction contracts on the project have been let, and completion is expected in late 1978.
The project is one of the demographic changes which the PTA charged the school board with failing to consider when it voted to close College Park Elementary School.