The issue of busing came before the Prince George's County school board again last week, and over the protests of a group which included numerous black parents, the board turned down a proposal to end busing in one area of the county.
By a vote of 8 to 1, the board turned down a resolution, presented by 8th District Rep. Sue V. Mills of Oxon Hill, which would have returned children form Riverbend Estates and Tor Bryan Estates to their neighborhood school instead of busing them eight miles to school.
For more than a year, parents of Riverbend and Tor Bryant have argued that since their communities have an almost equal ratio of blacks and whites their children should be allowed to attend nearby Fort Foote Elementary School instead of being bused to Owens Road Elementary School.
The board attorney, Paul M. Nussbaum, has told board members repeatedly that if they will make an exception of any kind they will be subject to a law-suit.
Busing began in Prince George's in 1973 after a federal court judge in Baltimore ordered it. According to statistics compiled by the board, there are now 42 communities in the county that are racially balanced enough not to require busing.
Van Gilmer, president of the Riverbend Homeowners Association said after last week's vote, "I think I'm in the same position as the black parents were in 1973. The fact is that my kids are going to a segregated school."
Black enrollment at Owens Road in September 1977 was 82 percent and at Fort Foote, 61 percent. According to a school board study, the percentage of blacks at Owens Road would be well over 90 percent if all the students from the River Bend-Tor Bryan area were removed.
About 40 parents, including blacks and whites, showed up at the meeting to support Mill's proposal.
Although Gilmer and three other parents delivered impassioned speeches to the board, pleading with them to allow the children, in Gilmer's words, "to return to an integrated school near their homes," it was soan obvious that the proposal was doomed.
Board Chairman Norman Saunders again asked Nussbaum if the board would be subject to legal action if it voted to exempt Riverbend-Tor Bryan from busing, and Nussbaum repeated that in his opinion it would.
Saunders then said he had consulted other lawyers who shared Nussbaum's opinion.
"Although I am not in favor of making exceptions I would vote for this proposal if not for the legal problems," Saunders said. "But because of the lawyers' advice, I cannot."
Board member A. James Galato moved that Mills' proposal be tabled in favor of a proposal to ask Superintendent Edward J. Feeney to study the possibility of closing Owens Road. Galato's motion was tabled.
"The Owens Road parents think we're trying to get their school closed, but we're not," Gilmer said. "All we want is to get our kids back in a neighborhood school. Right now, busing is causing segregation, at least for us."
Gilmer said that each year more parents from the neighborhood were opting to send their children to private schools rather than send them to Owens Road.
The board has closed some schools in recent years, in order to alleviate segregation problems and because the schools were under-enrolled. The Riverbend-Tor Bryan parents contend that by next September Owens Road will be more than 90 percent black whether their children remain there or not.
In making the proposal, Mills said she realized that one exemption would not solve the problem the county faces but would a "step in the right direction."
The board members said they would continue to study the problems to try to find a way to allow children in racially integrated neighborhoods to attend their own schools without sacrificing the integration of other county schools.
Recent board surveys have shown that in most areas which are now integrated, termination of busing for those children would create a racial imbalance in other schools.
The River Bend-Tor Bryan parents, now faced with another year of busing to Owens Road, said they would meet later this month to decide their next step.
"Certainly we would consider a law-suit at this point," Gilmer said. The board is so afraid of legal problems that they don't want to touch the problem. Why would anyone take them to court for trying to keep the schools integrated? That's ridiculous.
"If they keep going like this they may end up in court anyway," continued Gilmer, who is the father of a second grader and a first grader. "I feel like the parents did in 1973. I want my kids in an integrated school and I'll do what I have to get them there."