Two controversial proposals that would radically change the racial makeup of Prince George's County elementary schools were sent to public hearing last week by the county school board.
Bonnie Johns, the only black on the board and a representative of District 6, voted against the decision, calling it "a cruel hoax on the public."
The alternatives would allow more than 90 percent of the county's 68,359 elementary school students to attend schools closer to their neighborhoods and would close 11 schools in the process. Three of those schools would be in District 6.
"These school closings will result in one-way busing," said Johns. "To take the issue to public hearing now is premature and would ask the public to choose on or between the charges."
Only one plan was originally proposed in December, but after it was attacked by several black leaders because it would make eight elementary schools more than 90 per cent black, Superintendent Edward J. Feeney produced a second plan.
The two proposals are attempts to alter the student busing assignments set by the courts in 1972 to desegregate the county's public school system. Currently 49 per cent of the elementary students in the county walk to school and 51 percent ride the bus. Each of the proposals would enable 61 to 65 percent of the children to walk to school.
Sue V. Mills, a proponent of the first alternative, said the proposal "is sensible and is defensible. Prince George's County is integrated now and this will reduce a chaotic busing plan."
Before the county could implement either plan, there would have to be court approval.
Several speakers who spoke before the school board said both plans would result in "one-way busing" and in "resegregation."
Ezander Gilmer of the River Bend Estates Home Owners Association told the members, "We live in an integrated neighborhood. Bus us to integrate us, not to segregate us. Our kids are bused from our neighborhood yet our area schools are always threatened for closing because they are underutilized. You are busing kids to schools that are 60 percent black. Our neighbors do not support segregated schools. We would like to see our kids returned to our neighborhood schools."
"In District 6, three schools will be closed. Soon there will be no school for our children to walk to," said Marian Roberts. "We once had several schools to walk to for racial balance. But now, within a seven-block area, the children are bused to 12 different schools in Prince George's County."
School Board Member James Golato, who supports the busing alternatives, said, "We must close some schools to save taxpayers money. We must reduce busing for a higher quality of living. We can accomplish both at the same time."
The county now has 62 schools with black majorities. In alternative one, there would be 14 schools with black populations of less than 10 percent and eight schools with black populations of more than 90 percent. Under this plan Greenbelt Center, which is now 40 percent black, will change to 1.7 percent black, or nine black children in a school population of 542.
In the second alternative, three schools would have black populations of less than 10 percent and only one with a school population more than 90 percent black. That school, William Paca, which now is 60 percent black, would change by reducing the overall enrollment by taking children out of the school and moving them to another areas.
School Board Member Lesley Kreimer cautioned other board members that any new plan needed "assurances that the racial balance will remain for several years to come" before the members sent it to public hearing.
"The time has come to put the matter before the public," said Maureen K. Steinecke. "What we are going to ask people is, 'Do we want change? Do we want our children moved closer to home?' That's the real issue. We must give the public at-large an opportunity to comment on that issue."
The public hearings are scheduled for Feb. 28 and March 6, 7:30 p.m., Southern Area Office Auditorium; March 1 and March 8, 7:30 p.m., Largo Senior High School, and March 2 and March 13, 7:30 p.m., Eleanor Roosevelt Senior High School.