The Alexandria school board voted last night to initiate a busing arrangement for two elementary school that one of the board's black members attacked as possibly signaling "the return oof racism."
The vote approving the arrangement was 6 to 2 with one abstention came from the board's three black members. Members of the majority defended the arrangement as the least disruptive plan that could be found.
The vote was occasioned by the reopening next fall of the Cora Kelly school, which was closed in 1976 because of several factors including a flooding problem that has now been solved.
With the aim of racial balance, the board majority approved a busing plan in which students in kindergarten plus grades four through six will be bused from the predominantly black neighborhood adjacent to Kelly to the John Adams school in the racially mixed far west end of the city. Children will be bused from the Adams neighborhood to attend kindergarten through grade three at Kelly.
The pairing of the Kelly and Adams schools is similar to the pairing of the Kelly and John Tyler schools in the city's west end that existed from 1973 to 1976, when Kelly was closed. Tyler is scheduled to be closed at the end of this year, and the Adams school will take its place in the school board's scheme to maintain racial balance.
Board Vice Chairman Shirley Tyler opposed the busing of children from Cora Kelly, which is in the Arlandria area, across town to the Adams school. "I have heard people say those children are being talked about as if they were animals. Why must Cora Kelly kids always be bused around? I fear a return of racism in the city," she said.
When Kelly was closed, in a move widely interpreted in the black community as having racial overtones, all its students were bused to the Tyler school.
The three black board members last night all supported school pairing schemes that would have kept the Kelly children either at Kelly or sent them to the Charles Barrett school, which is in an adjoining area.Under that plan, which was defeated along racial lines by a 6-to-3 vote, students in the Tyler zone would have been taken to either Kelly or Barrett.
Board member John O. Peterson, who is black, said the pairing of Kelly and Adams, is like "giving the city an aspirin when we need a diagnosis and prognosis. We are only looking at one or two areas when we should be looking at the whole city. Why are there touch-me-not areas? I don't want to see us going to ... a segregated system." Peterson then called for new redistricting of the school system to achieve racial balance.
The system's 11,000 students are now almost evenly divided between blacks and whites, although neighborhoods vary in racial concentration.
Alexandria has had busing to achieve racial balance since the early 1970s; busing arrangements that pair elementary schools are common.
Board member Michael Mulroney said, "Our responsibility is not to restructure neighborhoods . . .but to achieve the best school system possible." rHe expressed the sentiment of the five other members voting for the plan when he said the pairing would cause the least disruption of the students involved.
Osborne Banks, president of the John Tyler PTA, who is black, agreed, saying after the meeting, "I'm happy. This will give stability to two neighborhoods."
The board voted to reopen Cora Kelly last year after mounting pressure from local residents. School officials had always said the school would be reopened upon completion of the $55 million flood control project for Four Mile Run. The project now is substatially finished.
William Euille, another of the black board members, abstained from voting because, while he said he could "live with the plan," he did not want to indicate approval of it.
Black activists two years ago filed a discrimination claim against the school board attempting to show that Cora Kelly was one of two schools closed in 1976 for racial reasons. A federal judge last year denied their claim, and the case is now being appealed.