An inaccurate statement by a member of the audience at the Prince George's Town Meeting on Oct. 27 about an attempted rape at a junior high school was reported in the Maryland Weekly on Nov. 3. School board officials said yesterday there have been no attempted rapes in Prince George's County schools this year.
The rain was falling so hard Thursday night that many who braved the night to come to the Duval Senior High School gymnasium were soaked by the time they crossed the parking lot to the entrance. But still they came, more than 200 of them, residents of Prince George's, citizens of Greenbelt.
It was the monthly town meeting and state and county officials were waiting for the local citizenry. But the rain not only kept some of them at home, and dampened the clothes of those who came, it also seemed to dampen the spirits of those who sat in the gym.
For the tirades and complaints usually heard at gatherings of officials and citizens never materialized. Instead, orderly, rational discussion was the order of the evening. One citizen actually complimented officials on an action they had taken, which, more than anything else that night seemed to shake the gathered leaders.
Commercial truck traffic on side roads, the litter thrown about the streets when a landlord evicts a tenant, the problems a small business person has with zoning when operating out of a home - all these matters were discussed. And County Executive Winfield M. Kelly, moderator of the meeting, directed members of his community affairs staff and other from several county offices who attended the meeting to take care of the various constituents problems.
It was democratic action, face to face. It was the New England town meeting boiled Maryland style.
While citizens listened quietly and patiently to others' problems, a small group of parents - members of the Prince George's Coalition for Children - passed out of their October newsletter, filled with complaints against sex education in the school system, a Gay Alliance day at Prince George's Community College, the use of marijuana and community education. Most in the audience, after politely taking the leaflet and glancing at it, politely put it aside.
The most fervent speakers of the evening focused their anger on the school system. One gentleman, who referred to the educational system as "Hitlerian," blamed a lack of supervision in schools for an assault at Godard Junior High School and an attempted rape at Kettering Junior High School. "We have to be concerned about what is going on in our schools. My children have grown up and are out of them, thank god. But even though we don't have neighborhood schools anymore, we still have schools in our neighborhood."
James Goloto, a member of the school board, responded to the complainant by telling him "the problems in the schools are a problem of society today. It's out on the street, in the shopping centers. We have things like this happen all the time throughout our society so it's not surprising this happens in the schools. We are trying to isolate disruptive students and actually have had to spend fewer teacher hours this year on disciplinary problems.
Several parents also focused on special needs of handicapped students in Prince George's. Last week the county council directed the county health department to provide special services to two handicapped students at Reed Elementary School and began a study of the health needs of handicapped children within the whole school system.
Mr. and Mrs. Donald Larson, parents of one of those children, spoke out at the meeting for the resolution of the question. "We are caught between the school board and the health department, but so are many other children and parents," said Larson.
"These kids are falling into the cracks," said Rebecca Schmidt. "The handicapped have a right to be educated, but there is no money for the special needs these children require." Another parent said that some handicapped children receive only 15 minutes of physical therapy a day in some schools.
Del. Gerard F. Devlin (D-Prince George's), who called himself "an enthusiastic champion of special education" said the state has given more money to special education over the past year than for any other program. "It's not enough, but it's better than before."
The tempo of the evening was conciliatory. Crucial questions on the budget, on the possible rise of the tax rate, are put aside until a new session in January, unitl the election next November.