A committee set up by the Prince George's County school board to recommend ways to reduce busing in the county has drafted a plan that would allow approximately 3,700 elementary school students to return to their neighborhood schools.
Nearly 1,800 of those students would be taken off school buses and allowed to walk to school each day under the plan, which must be formally approved by the busing committee next week and then sent to the school board for consideration.
The remainder of the 3,700 students would continue to ride buses, but for much shorter distances to schools in their area. There are now 16,000 elementary school students who are bused out of their neighborhoods.
The plan is the result of weeks of effort by the committee and school system staff to amend a busing plan that a U.S. court ordered in 1973 to desegregate the county's public schools. Since the order went into effect seven years ago, the county's racial population and school-aged population has shifted dramatically, but the busing plan has never been altered to accommodate those shifts.
As a result, there are many instances of cross-busing where black students are now bused to predominantly black schools and students living in integrated areas are transported to integrated schools miles across the county.
For the last three years, the school board has tried to come up with a plan to curtail busing, claiming that the county is now integrated and no longer needs such extensive busing. Many board members argue that busing has led to a series of social ills in the county, including white flight and the loss of new affluent families and businesses.
The board empaneled the advisory committee several months ago after it failed for the sixth time in as many months to develop its own busing curtailment plan due to internal board bickering.
The committee's plan, which the board is under no obligation to approve, is not a comprehensive county-wide program, sources said. It simply adjusts busing patterns to eliminate "unnecessary busing" or cross-busing where the racial balance of the elementary school would not be substantially affected by such changes.
Of the 3,700 students affected by the proposed plan, 70 percent are black. About 60,000 youngsters attend the county's public elementary schools, about 16,000 of whom are bused for desegregation purposes.
Sources said that the committees plan would affect approximately half of the county's 145 elementary schools but the racial balance in those schools would not change more than an average of 5-to-7 percent.
One of the problems encountered in past efforts to curtail county busing has been that many of the county wide proposals would have led to drastic changes in the racial balance of many county schools in the direction of resegregation.
Recently, the school staff released a study to the busing committee that showed a substantial increase in the number of one-race schools if all elementary school students in the county were allowed to attend schools in their neighborhood.
The busing committee initially wanted to propose a county-wide plan but were stymied in that effort when the board refused to give the committee information that it felt would have led to the use of racial quotas.
As a result of the school board's decision, the committee decided to draw up a much more limited plan that sources said has a good chance of being approved by the board and eventually implemented.
The committee has one more meeting scheduled next week to debate the plan before finally approving it and sending it to the school board.
School officials emphasized yesterday that further drafts of the plan may change the number of youngsters who would be taken off buses if the proposal is implemented.
The committee's proposal was not made public until late last night when, after press inquiries, school board members received a draft of the proposal and released it.