The latest plan to cut back on school busing in Prince George's County, hammered out by a special citizens committee over the last five months, encountered the same opposition last night that doomed previous efforts.
About 400 persons turned out for a public hearing and, almost without exception the approximately 60 speakers opposed the plan, which would eliminate or shorten the school bus rides of 4,800 elementary school pupils.
Many speakers complained to the county Board that the plan would either resegregate the schools -- which were desegregated by a court-ordered busing plan in 1973 -- or fail to deal effectively with resegregation that has occurred in the seven years since the original busing plan went into effect.
Such resegregation has resulted from population shifts and there are now many instances of cross-busing where black students are bused to predominantly black schools and students living in integrated areas are transported to integrated schools miles across the county.
The School Board has wrestled with the issue for three years, attempting to find a way to modify the original busing plan, which is still in effect. Each effort has had backers who see a return to neighborhood schools as halting "white flight" and strengthening the public schools system.
Opponents of the plan under review at last night's hearing included many blacks and the county chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. Thirty-three residents of Kettering, an integrated community outside the Beltway near Rte. 202, signed up to speak against the plan and argue that children living in such neighborhoods should be allowed to attend neghborhood schools. The plan would not achieve that goal in Kettering.
"Even if current racial patterns due to demographic change are constitutional," declared county ACLU Chairman Claire Bigelow, "the School Board cannot now adopt a plan which intensifies the effect of that change by 5 to 10 percent."
Bigelow warned that the ACLU wouldn't hestitate to take the School Board to court if the board adopts the plan, drafted by a citizens advisory committee. She conceded that her organization doesn't think a court challenge would be easy to win.
The average change in racial composition resulting from the plan would be 4 to 5 percent. Only a few schools would have higher percentages of change.
Speakers who supported the plan called it a necessary first step in reducing busing without resegregation.
"The citizens of Prince George's County have been waiting on a plan like this for a long time," said Cathy Dickens, vice president of the Camp Springs Elementary School PTA. "Don't let this chance to shine some light on the problem of busing slip away."
In the past the view of the local NAACP branch has carried great weight with some School Board members. The NAACP is scheduled to outline its position Monday night, when the hearing will be continued at Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt, scene of last night's hearing.
The board is expected to vote on the plan next month.