The current dispute over Arlington schools, particularly County Board Chairman Walter Frankland's suggestion that two school board members resign, has refocused attention on legislative attempts to make the school board an elective body once again.
During the last four. General Assembly sessions, unsuccessful legislation has been introduced to change the current policy under which the County Board appoints the five school board members to staggered, four-year terms.
"Questions of what kind of school system to structure in a time of declining enrollment and in an increasingly urbanized area are decision that should be made by elected officials," maintins Sen. Edward Holland (D-Arlington), who sponsored the local-option bill last year. Even though the proposal was endorsed by the school board and the County Board, it died in committee.
For 10 years, from 1946 to 1956, Arlington had the first -- and only -- elected school board in the state. But the General Assembly, upset with Arlington's voluntary efforts to desegregate its schools, wiped out the elected board in 1956.
"Richmond was known at that period for its massive resistance to desegregation," said Harold Wilson, Arlington's associate supertendent for education who was principal at Wakefield High School in 1956. "They nullified the Arlington legislation as an act of reprisal on a locality which was considered too liberal to start eith."
Barnard Joy was a member of the last elected school board in Arlington. He also served eight of his 16 years on an appointed school board.
"Having served on both, I very strogly feel elected school boards are superior to appointed ones," says Joy. "When you're elected, you belong to the community. When appointed, you belong to the County Board."
Arlington initially fought to get an elected school board because appointed members were considered "insensitive" to the rapidly changing conditions in the county after World War II.
A citizens' campaign to pressure county legislators resulted in local legislation to release schools from what local newspapers termed their "political stranglehold."
During its 10 years with an elected board, Arlington built new schools and developed an enviable record of academic excellence. But after the school administration announced plans in 1956 to desegregate its schools, while Richmond was still searching for ways to avoid desegregation, the elective experiment was shelved.
"The opposition to this legislation has been historically strong, chiefly among the members (in Richmond) who remember the days of mass resistance," says holland, who nonetheless expects the bill to be introduced again this session.
"I don't think it has a prayer of a chance," admits school board member Mary Margaret Whipple, one of the two members Frankland suggested resign. Despite her pessimism, Whipple expects to go to Richard to testify for the bill. Traveling with her will be former school board member Joy.
"I annually make a trip to Richard to testify in favor of an elected school board and it has annually been a futile exercise," said Joy. "I confidently expect to make another futile trip this year."