The Prince George's Board of Education has decided to wait at least another month before considering a proposal that would virtually eliminate school busing for the county's elementary school children.
Under the proposal, which was prepared by school officials at the request of the board, more than 95 per cent of Prince George's elementary students would attend their neighborhood schools.
School Superintendent Edward J. Feeney says he hopes some agreement can be reached within the community on what his proposal would accomplish.There is no such agreement today.
The school administration maintains that the proposoal to return most elementary school children to their neighborhood schools would result in desegregation. Many leaders of the county's black population believe exactly the opposite - that the proposal would further segregate the school system.
The school administration says that the proposal would reduce by 14 the number of schools with majority black enrollments, while black populations would become overwhelmingly black, up to 99.6 per cent black in one case.
"What that does," said Thelma Boyd, representing a coalition of black civic associations, "is put the blacks in reservations."
Feeney, in a statement to the board last week, conceded that the proposal would go nowhere unless that disagreement is somehow resolved. He noted that the proposal would require the approval of the U.S. District Court, which established the present school busing plan in a 1973 desegregation order.
For the court to approve the plan, Feeney said, it would probably be necessary to "have the substantial concurrence" of the people who sued the county four years ago to achieve integration through busing.
One of those people is Sylvester Vaughans, president of the county chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. "I make you a promise right here and now that if you adopt this plan it will be under legal scrutiny," Vaughans told the school board. "We have studied this plan and have concluded that it does not meet the constitutional standards."
The key standard in the court desegregation plan was that each of the county's schools be no less than 10 per cent black. A demographic study that prompted the current proposal showed that the busing plan was no longer mmeeting that standard.
The study found that there has been a steady influx of blacks into the county (in the last five years, the black student enrollment has jumped from 28 per cent to more than 24 per cent of the total). The result, according to the school administration, has been a natural desegregation process that in many instances has made busing counter-productive.
Van Gillmer, a black representative of the Riverbend Estates Home Owner's Association, offered an example of what he called counter-productiveness at last week's school board session. Gilmer said that the Riverbend Estates community is about 50 per cent black, 50 per cent white.
"And yet our children are bused seven miles away to a school that is overwhelmingly black," said Gilmer. "We live in an integrated neighborhood, but our children are segregated. If you must bus, please bus to integrate our schools, don't do it just for the sake of busing. We don't want our children to learn the same disguating insults that we know breed in segregation."
Gilmer was one of two blacks who spoke in favor of the reduced-busing proposal. The blacks who opposed it said they had nothing against school boundary adjustments to eliminate the Riverbend Estates situation and others like it, but they found the overall plan unacceptable.
County Executive Winfield M. Kelly Jr., who has had his disagreements with Feeney in the past, looks upon the superintendent's proposal as an unexpected godsend. Kelly, who is seeking re-election this year on a "New Quality" platform, said the reduced busing would bring about a "new stability" in the county.
"If Kelly and other Democrats could go into the election with that no-busing plum," said one politician, "even if they had little to do with it, there's no way anyone couldbeat them."