The Alexandria school board denied last week that it closed four elementary schools because the schools were in predominately black neighborhoods.
In a court document filed last Thursday in response to a discrimination suit brought against the school system by the Alexandria chapter of the NAACP, the school board contended that the closings were based "upon proper considerations of economy of operation, safety, efficient administration and better education advantages for the children affected."
The school system maintained in the court response that "in no case has the defendant's decision to close or suspend operation of one school rather than another been based in whole or part upon the fact, assuming it to be a fact, that a majority of the residents in a particular neighborhood are black."
The NAACP, in the suit filed by the name Richmond law firm that handled a number of prominent Virginia civil rights legal fights in the 1960s, charged that the school system has systematically discriminated against blacks by closing schools in predominately black neighborhoods.
The suit, prepared by veteran civil rights attorney S.W. Tucker of Hill, Tucker and Marsh, seeks to reopen two elementary schools in largely black neighborhoods - Robert E. Lee and Cora Kelly.
School officials have said that Lee, near the Beltway and Rte. 1, was closed in June because of declining enrollment. Cora Kelly, in the Four Mile Run flood plain, was closed in June 1976 because of chronic flooding, school officials have said.
In the court response, the school system contended that the request to reopen Lee "comes too late." To reopen Lee would create "great hardship" to city residents, school employes and pupils since the current school year has begun and the teachers and students affected already have been transferred to other schools, according to the court response prepared by E. Waller Dudley of the Northern Virginia firm of Boothe, Prichard and Dudley.
The request to reopen Cora Kelly is "premature" because the flood control project has not been completed, the school board maintains.
When the school board closed Cora Kelly, the board passed a resolution indicating that "the board will look at Cora Kelly as a building to be reopened for public educational purposes upon completion of the flood control project."
The NAACP suit does not seek specific remedies in the cases of Theodore Ficklin and Stonewall Jackson - the two other schools that the NAACP maintains were closed in predominately black neighborhoods.
Ficklin was closed in June 1973 and later demolished. The NAACP had no comment on why its suit does not seek to reopen Jackson.
The NAACP contends that when Ficklin was closed in 1973, the elementary students were bused to schools in the west end, "where virtually all of the residents of elementary school age were white."
However, the school board maintains in its court response that it "is without knowledge as to the allegation that virtually all of the residents of elementary school age in the city's west end were white."
The NAACP suit also charges that Jackson, which is located at 25 S. Quaker La., was built to accommodate white elementary students and that school enrollment projections in 1972 showed that the school would be 55 percent black in 1976.
However, the school board in its response denies that Jackson was built for white students. The board also contends that it "is without knowledge as to the racial composition of the area in which (Jackson) is located."
The NAACP charged in its suit that Jefferson-Houston is the only elementary school now serving a predominately black area.
However, the school board, in its response to the suit, contended that it "is without knowledge as to the racial composition of the residents in the Jefferson-Houston area, but affirmatively states that Jefferson-Houston is not the only elementary school which has a majority of non-white students in its attendance area."
School officials have said that the school system has been in compliance with federal racial guidelines since the schools were fully desegregated at the secondary level in 1971 and the elementary level in 1973.
The number of black students in the school system dropped during the past school year for the first time in more than a decade. At the end of the past school year, the school system had an enrollment that was 47 percent black, 45 percent white and 8 percent Asian and Hispanic.