The Prince George's County Circuit Court has dismissed the College Park PTA is suit against the cunty's board of education and the superintendent of schools.
The PTA's suit charged the board and the superintendent with "arbitrary and capricious action" in the closing of College Park Elementary School at 4601 Calvert Rd., in College Park. Judge Perry Bowen ruled that the PTA had failed to show evidence meeting the "legal definition of arbitrariness."
Judge Bowen's decision to dismiss th suit followed an hour-long hearing. Although there are sings that the PTA's Legal Action Committee is wearying of the legal battle which began last June, its membership has yet to decide if it will appeal the judge's ruling.
Leonard Goldstein, the PTS's lawyer, said, "We have 30 days to file an appeal, so there's no hurry." Goldstein said he feels that the suit has a good chance of succeeding on appeal, and he has offered to absorb the PTA's legal costs in order to continue the suit.
Judge Bowen suggested at the hearing that a more proper course of PTA "action might be found in the next election," rather than in the courts, referring to the upcoming school board election. The primary for the school board seats will be held in May, 1978.
In his remarks, the judge said he was willing to accept as fact the PTA's allegations that the school-closing task force was little more than a device for making the board's decision to close College Park Elementary "palatable to the public." He also indicated that he agreed with the PTA's contention that small schools such as College Park are inherently better than larger ones.
However, he said, whether the board's decision to close College Park was made before or after the taskforce process is irrelevant, because the taks force process is not mandated by law, and the board has the right to make school closing decisions at any time.
"The board must be allowed to make decisions," Judge Bowen said, adding that he could find no legal basis for substituting his own personal judgments, or the PTA's judgments, for the decisions reached by the county's duly elected school board.
It is not yet clear what will happen to the College Park school building and the surrounding property when, and if, the case is closed in favor of the board. A board spokesman said the board has initiated the necessary procedures to transfer the school from the board to the county.
The city of College Park has expressed an interest in acquiring the property if the school remains closed and a committee appointed by the mayor is "exploring" possible uses the city might make of the property.
Committee chairwoman Pat Cunniff said the city does not have the money to support the property and would have to find tenants willing to "pick up a major portion of the tab."
One such tenant might be the nearby University of Maryland. In a presentation before the committee, the University's College of Education proposed that the building be used to house the college's pre-school program, a reading clinic, a math clinic and teacher-training programs.
The reading and math clincs are offered by the college to the county's public school children, cunniff said, "so the school would continue to operate to the educational benefit of the county," while the city retained benefits of the park-like playground.
The school board has held that the closing of College Park Elementary was necessary "to meet the economic demands of declining enrollment." Board estimates, made before the closing of 10 elementary schools, showed more than 20,000 empty elementary school seats in the county.
The PTA's suit charged that the board's vots to close College Park failed to consider the school's low per-pupil costs, its record of high academic achievement and the probable increase in its enrollment due to the changing demorgraphics of the area within walking distance of the school.