In a move that surprised most observers, the Prince George's County school board has withdrawn its plea for dismissal of the suit brought against it by the College Park PTA.
Paul M. Nussbaum, attorney for the board, has asked the Prince George's County Circuit Court for permission to withdraw his "demurrer" to the complaint filed by the PTA. A demurrer is a plea which asks the court to dismiss the oppositions suit. The PTA's suit charges that the board's decision to close College Park Elementary School at 4601 Calvert Rd. was an "arbitrary and capricious action."
Nussbaum said he withdrew the demurrer to speed up the case. "I think this is a case that should be resolved as soon as possible," Nussbaum explained.
Persons with experience in actions, such as the PTA's, against governmental agencies and boards had speculated that the board would lay as many road-blocks in the path of the College Park suit as possible, to discourage similar suits from suppoeters of other recently closed schools. Although PTA lawyer Jeffery Rosen said he was hesitant to comment on Nussbaum's action, he did caution that it would be a mistake to view the board's withdrawal of the demurrer as a concession by the board on any substantive issues.
The chairman of the PTA's Legal action Committee, Mike Jacobs, dismissed the idea that the demurrer was withdrawn to save time. "The board withdrew," Jacobs said, "because they knew they couldn't get our suit dismissed. The case could have been settled on July 28 (the date set for a hearing on the board's demurrer) if the board had won on the dismissal."
The PTA's suit alleges that the board's vote to close the College Park school was arbitrary and capricious because the board disregarded the school's low per-puil costs, its record of high academic achievement, and a probable increase in enrollment due to the changing demographics of the area within walking distance of the school.
Spokesmen for the board have said that this September's proposed closing of College Park Elementary School and nine other schools is necessary "to meet the economic demands of declining enrollment." Board estimates show more than 20,000 empty places in county elementray schools.
Judge Perry Bowen of Calvert County is assigned to hear the case. A pre-trial hearing is expected the middle orlatter part of this month.