Responding to widespread community protests, a Washington school board committee voted yesterday to keep open 12 of the 23 schools that superintendent Vincent Reed had recommended for closing.

Of the 11 schools still on the closing list, only four are neighborhood schools that have received strong public support. The others house special education or other programs that parents agreed to have relocated.

Although the vote by the board's capital improvements committee does not settle the issue, committee chairman Carol Schwartz said she expected the full board to go along with all the recommendations.

But she said she is not sure what the board would do in the cases of the schools in which the committee endorsed Reed's recommendations for closing.

"It's harder to close schools than keep them open," Schwartz said. "There are four members of the school board (out of 11) who said they will not vote to close any schools."

The board has scheduled a special meeting on school closings for Thursday at 6 p.m. in the Department of Commerce Auditorium, 14th Street and Constitution Ave. NW.

At yesterday's meeting, the three members of the capital improvements committee - Schwartz, Alaire Rieffel and board president Conrad P. Smith - voted unanimously to keep open the following schools that Reed had recommended for closing:

Elementary - Bryan, 13th Street and Independence Avenue SE; Bunker Hill, 14th Street and Michigan Avenue NE; Cleveland, 8th and T streets NW; Giddings, 3rd and G streets SE; Nalle, 50th and C streets SE; Nichols Avenue, 2427 Martin Luther King Ave., SE; Smothers, 44th and Brooks streets NE; Syphax, Half and N streets SW; and Woodridge, Carlton and Central

Junior High - Lincoln 16th and Irving streets NW.

Senior High - Randall, 1st and I streets SW, which houses a special aerospace and marine science program.

Other - Fillmore, 35th and R center.

The four controversial closing recommendations that the committee endorsed were Hamilton Junior High, a 10-year-old building at 6th Street and Brentwood Parkway NE, and three old elementary schools, Grimke, Vermont Avenue and T Street NW; Logan, 3rd and G streets NE; and Slater-Langston, North Capitol and P streets.

Hamilton would be closed in 1980 and used for a vocational training program for handicapped youngsters. Slater-Langston would be closed next year, and the other two buildings this month. Smith split with the other two committee members and voted to keep Grimke open.

The other buildings that the committee endorsed for closing are:

Senior High - Magruder, 1679 M St. NW, now headquarters for the city-wide School Without Walls, which probably will be moved to the old Grant School, 21st and G streets NW.

Junior High - Gordon, 35th and T streets NW.

Elementary - Buchanan, 13th and E streets SE.

Other - Edmonds, 8th and D streets SE; Lenox Annex, 4th and M streets SE, special education; Powell Annex, 13th and Allison streets NW; and Webster, 10th and H streets, NW, special education.

The committee also agreed with Reed's recommendation to close two old buildings used for offices: Madison, 10th and G streets NE, and Morgan Annex, 17th and Euclid streets NW.