After weeks of controversy and a six-hour meeting filled with tension and sometimes bitter debate, the members of the Prince George's County Board of Education conceded early today that their efforts to curtail busing had failed.
The board met last night to consider three different plans to alter or reexamine the county's six-year-old busing plan, but all three were eventually tabled.
Instead, shortly after midnight, the board agreed only to schedule a public "rap session" sometime in the future to discuss busing and the board's seeming inability to deal with the issue.
"There are a lot of people who came here tonight who I think are going to feel cheated," said board member Angelo Castelli late in the evening. "The black community does not trust this board anymore."
"In order to have any one of these three resolutions passed," Castelli said, "the leadership of this board is going to have to be reorganized." Castelli said he would propose his reorganization on June 14, but did not elaborate on what he would suggest.
A mood of gloom and defeat prevailed as the board members agreed to drop plans for immediate action on busing. "The only thing we have accomplished here tonight," Darryll Wright, the student board member, "is to realize that we have a problem and that we have to deal with it."
"We as students are being lost," the normally quiet Wright told the board emotionally. "We are being lost in money and in different political games."
The board's stalemate came after a long hearing and after long speeches by board members in defense of each of the three plans.
The plans proposed were:
Board Chairman Norman H. Saunders' plan to create a citizens advisory committee, including representatives from various community groups, to consider alternatives that would curtail busing.
Board member A. James Golato's proposal that the school superintendent develop a plan that would allow a maximum number of students to return to their neighborhood schools.
Board members Bonnie H. Johns proposal to create a task force of board members, school staff and community representatives to analyze the county's busing plans and all their educational effects on students.
Although the board could not agree on any one of the plans, board members seemed to agree that it was critical that something be done about busing.
"This board's failure to reduce busing places the county in the position of a drunken high-wire walker," said Golato, ". . . without the value of a safety net. We are in danger of the brutal fall of middle-class flight," he said.
"If anyone does not believe that Prince George's County is sucking and gasping its last breath [because of busing]," said Saunders, "You are so misguided it is pathetic. We must take some drastic action.
The cause of the board's inability to adopt a plan seemed, in part, to be the outpouring of citizen disapproval at last night's public hearing for Saunders' and Goloto's plans. Although some of the 18 speakers urged quick action to curtail busing, many others attacked - often bitterly - any move by the board that would create one-race schools or resegregated students.
James Garrett, representing the Black Coalition Against Unncessary Busing, declared, "I am here to place the school board on warning. If some immediate action is not taken to reduce unnecessary and chaotic busing, there will be no need for busing. We will be approaching a majority black system."
Garrett said he did not like the idea of curtailing busing, but that the exodus of whites from the schools was making it necessary. "You cannot integrate with yourself. You cannot marry unless you have somebody to marry," he said.
Joining Garrett in supporting the Saunders proposal was Charlayna Gilmer, a black, who said her two children were being bused eight miles from their integrated neighborhood to black schools.
Gilmer and her husband Van, who also spoke, said one-race schools were a reality, and those who lived in integrated neighborhoods should not be punished. "We have chosen to live in an integrated community," Mrs. Gilmer said. "Busing served a purpose but times have changed, people have changed."
Their viewpoint was disputed by other representative of the black community.
Josie Bass, president of the Prince George's NAACP branch, urged rejection of the Golato and Saunders proposals.
"We will not succumb" to one-race schools, Bass said. "We must insure" that our children are being prepared for the future. Dramatically pointing toward the board members and tapping the podium, Bass warned "We have no problems [in] going to court. We are prepared to fight for our children."
The meeting drew a cross-section of politicians and others long associated with the busing controversy. Among the speakers were Council member Deborah Marshall, who called the Saunders and Golato plans "nonsensical smokescreens" and council member Gerard T. McDonough, who said: "I don't know that it makes a difference if [a child] is bused or walks. What matters is the quality of education."
School busing has been a divisive issue in Prince George's since January 1973 when a court-ordered plan to use it to implement desegregation went into effect.
Before the federal court order, 58 percent of the county's black students attended majority-black schools.Under the court's guidelines, every school was to have an enrollments between 10 and 50 percent black.
In subsequent years, more blacks moved to the county and, at the same time, white enrollment declined. Where black enrollment stood at 25 percent of the 161,969 students enrolled before 1973, it now stands at 44 percent of the 133,613 students in county schools.
As population shifted, some previously all-white neighborhoods became integrated and, because the busing pattern remained in effect, some black children from those neighborhoods were bused to predominately black schools.
Such changing population patterns gave impetus to efforts to curtail school busing.