They call themselves "Rosemary's Rainbows" - the youngsters representing more than two dozen cultures who attend Rosemary Hills Primary School in Silver Spring.
Wearing rainbow-stripped Rosemary Hills T-shirts and eager back-to-school smiles, these children and their parents greeted each other warmly at the school open house last week, without a hint of the apprehension and controversy that surrounded the first days of school just two years ago.
In the spring of 1976, Rosemary Hills, with a 94 percent minority enrollment, had become the focal point of an increasingly emotional controversy surrounding racial imbalance in Montgomery County schools.That March, the school board ordered the desegregation of eight elementary schools in the Chevy Chase-Silver Spring-Bathesda area. The order sparked heated debate, with parents aiming much of their anger at the busing which accompanied the intergration plan.
Under the mandatory desegregation plan, Rosemary Hills and seven other area schools were grouped into a cluster with each school offerjng specialized programs. The plan, phased in over a two-year period, called for the conversion of predominately black Rosemary Hills to an intergrated primary school comprising kindergaten through second grade.
In the two years since the desegregation plan went into effect in the Rosemary Hills cluster, putting more than 1,100 students on buses to new schools, these things have happened:
From a minority population of 94 percent, Rosemary Hills dropped to 47.8 percent in 1977-8. In the other seven schools, minority enrollment ranged from 16.9 percent at Parkwood to 46.6 percent at Rock Creek Forest.
Strong ties to neighborhood schools have given way to the concepts oc expanded neighborhoods, where parents choose the school in the cluster that offers the type of program they prefer for their children. Often this results in a more culturally diverse student mix.
Preliminary reports indicate that the educational quality at the cluster schools has remained about the same but the students have developed a greater awareness of different life styles.
Parents who once strongly opposed both busing and the cluster concept now express enthusiasm over the change. Other parents say they still regard busing as a nuisance but they are satisfied with the education their children have been receiving.
"It has been a tremendous change, and the whole situation has worked out beautifully," said Martha Sorensen, a former Rosemary Hills PTA president. Sorensen helped trigger an investigation of racial balance in the Montgomery school system in 1974 when she led a group of parents in the filling of a complaint with the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare. While HEW found that the schools were not in violation of federal guidelines, the board decided to desegregate to avoid furture federal intervention.
Sorensen, who transferred her daughter from Rosemary Hills to North Chevy Chase in 1975 because she said the education there was declining, now says she is "elated" by the experience her current second-grader has had at the recognized Rosemary Hills Primary School.
"The children have an opportunity to experience a more diverse population with all the benefits that come out of that," said Sorensen. "They've really benefited from the excellent teaching staff, too."
School Superintendent Charles Bernado, who came to the county during the violatile fall of 1975, called the intergration effort "more successful than any I've experienced."
The day before Bernado assumed his position, the Board of Education adopted a "quality education/racial balance policy" that called for action to decrease racial imbalance in schools with more than 50 percent minority students. The policy recommended desegragation planning for any school with a minority enrollment that was 20 percent higher than the county's minority percentage of 17.4 percent.
Bernado appointed Alan Dodd, who was then an assistant superintendent, to head the new Quality Integrated Education (QIE) office, which was created to develop and administer integration plans. Today QIE is headed by Gilbert Valdez, who noted that two schools, Lynbrook and Kensington, have asked to join the Rosemary Hills cluster this fall.
"This was the cluster nobody wanted anything to do with in the past," Valdez said, smiling. "Now it's very desirable."
Part of the desirability stems from the extra $2 million in county and federal funds allocated to QIE schools in the past two years. This year there are 35 QIE schools, identified as those schools with 34.7 percent minority population.
With the extra money, the school system set up a QIE Action Team including bilingual teachers, teacher assistants and community intervention specialists. The team helps classroom teachers, maintain a multicultural center and provides staff training and parent seminars. The school system budget also provides for a total of 31 QIE positions, including music, reading, math, physical education and bi-cultural teachers.
While the county's low minority percentage resulted in loss of the federal funds this year, the county government will increase its funding to approximately $1 million for the 1978-1979 school year. Calling the QIE Action Team program "too important to drop at this time," Bernado has called for a slightly modified program to aid QIE schools such as Rosemary Hills.
"The public perception of Rosemary Hills has changed bacause parents are saying good things about that school," said school principal Gerald Johnson, who added that "before" and "after" tests showed that isntruction was not hampered by the desegregation effort.
"During the first year we were concerned with showing parents that quality teaching was taking place in the school. Last year was a good year, with a major contributing factor the Parents Assembly," Johnson said.
Similar to a PTA, a Parents Assembly executive staff is comprised of three parents from each of the school's neighborhoods - Rosemary Hills, Chevy Chase and Larchmont - plus one teacher and the principal. Chairmanship rotates every three months so no one area can have control over one group.
"Parents, both black and white, are now taking a vivid interest and the school has profited by it," noted Yvonne Hawkins, a black parent whose eldest child attended Rosemary Hills and is now at Chevy Chase, and whose twins are beginning the all-day kindergaten at Rosemary Hills.
"I'm not a busing advocate, but in this case it proved a valuable asset by bringing people of different outlooks and cultures together. It's really a great concept, and I made one friend who I never would have met without the desegregation. I wouldn't trade her for the world."
Involvement with parents from other communities has broadened neighborhood ties to encompass all areas that feed into one school.
"One of the most beautiful things is that parents mix who never would have gotten together in other circumstances, and it's a very enriching experience," said Lynn Berkeley, a white Chevy Chase parent who admitted she fought the cluster plan "tooth and nail all the way.
"I was against it because I saw it tearing up the community that we had sought out. What I was afraid of has happened, but I haven't been as upset as I thought I'd be.
"I've gotten very involved with Rosemary Hills, and it makes you a small part of a lot of communities rather than a big part of one big community," Berkeley said. "And the kids are color blind, thank goodness."
A black-white team of fifth-grade teachers at Chevy Chase, Paulette Smith and Joan Albert, agree that the children aren't color conscious.
"Last year we bought in our baby pictures and they couldn't tell us apart," smiled Smith. She admitted there had been some communication problems with the community during the first year, but the second year showed "mellowing and trusting."
"The whole change has been fantastic," said Chevy Chase music teacher Joan Gregory, who taught at Rosemary Hills when it was predominantly black and at Chevy Chase when it was predominantly white. "Both groups are at an advantage by getting experience from the others they never would have gotten before."
But not everyone is enthusiastic about the desegregation and grade reorganization.
"It's been a nuisance to us," said Malcolm Laughlin of Chevy Chase, who was one of the five parents who filed suit against the Board of Education. The suit claimed that the board overstepped its mandate in requiring busing to end desegregation when it had not been ordered to do so by the federal government. After taking the matter under advisement, a Montgomery County Circuit Court judge dismissed the case this summer.
"Our second grader and third grader have been separated for two years," said Laughlin who called the plan a waste of money. "It upsets people interested in family. There is no kindergarten, first or second grade in our neighborhood and mothers have to walk the kids to the bus.
"But aside from personal inconvenience, I don't think it's made any difference in the education our kids are getting." Laughlin said.
Some parents who have supported the desegregation efforts in the past are now expressing fear that the elimination of federal funds will mean a decline in the quality of education at the cluster schools.
"We are concerned that the school system's continuing commitment may be fading as we get two years awsy from the event," said former Chevy Chase Elementary PTA president Tim Hanlen, citing the elimination this year of the school's closed circuit TV program.
"The support we have gotten from the QIE program has been exceptional over the last couple of years. But that elimination of the TV program is a bad develolment in itself, and parents are concerned whether it signals possible loss of support for Rosemary Hills cluster as things become more 'business as normal' rather than a new special program."