With less than three weeks left before classes begin Sept. 2, no one knows whether those attending Bethesa's Grosvenor Elementary School building will be public or private-school students.

The Montgomery County Board of Education has voted to operate the school, at least for the coming term, and the desks and books were moved to other schools in July.

But parents have appealed the local board's decision to the state Board of Education. Until the state's ruling, expected Aug. 27, no final action on Grosvenor can be taken.

The French International School, a private insititution now at 9600 Forest Rd. in Bethesda, has been the only prospective tenant willing to put up with the uncertainly about whether it can use the building next month.

In recommending the closing last December, Superintendent Edward Andrew cited Grosvenor's declining enrollment, the capacity of nearby schools to absorb its 156 pubils, and anticipation of a future need for substantial renovation and repair of the building.

If the state board upholds the county's decision, Grosvenor School, at 5701 Grosvenor Lane, will not re-open and the students will attend Ashburton School, a mile and a half away at 6314 Lone Oak Dr.

If the state board overturns the county's decision, Grosvenor School will operate within the county system as it has since 1958.

Meanwhile, there is the touchy question of the building itself.

If the local board's decision is upheld, the board will lease the building to the county under a 30-year contract.

The lease provides that the board can, on 240 days' notice, demand the building back for its use. According to county officials, no other lease between the board and the county contains such a contingency.

The lease cannot be signed until Aug. 27, when the state board is expected to make its decision.

For the same reason, no lease can yet be signed between the French International School and the county. But representatives of both did sign a "memorandum of understanding" on Aug. 4.

According to the terms of that agreement, the French School will sign a 10-year lease with the county, pending the state board's decision. It will pay $350,000 over a 10-year period, subject to the school board's 240-day-notice clause.

The agreement also allows the French School to undertake structural renovations required by the 1980 county fire code "at its own risk." The private school already has begun to make these renovations.

"We don't want that building on Grovesnor Lane vacant, in the event that the state board upholds the local board's decision," said one county official. "All we're doing (by signing the memorandum) is trying to prevent that."

Parents of Grosvenor students, however, who have noted the renovation work being done at the school since the beginning of the month, see things differently.

An emotional public hearing on the re-use of the school was held last week -- four days after the memorandum was signed. Carl Schulz, president of the Grosvenor PTA, shouted, "This is a sham!. This is a charade!"

Schulz said, "We still feel Grosvenor was unfairly closed, we still have our case pending with the state and all of a sudden, there's a public hearing on something that's already decided just so the county can say they had public hearing."

No one actually testified according to the hearing rules during the hour-long meeting. Al McArthur, the hearing examiner who presided, was not even able to get the names of those who spoke until after the meeting was adjourned.

"This is the most emotional group I've had in a while," McArthur said afterwards.

McArthur will make a recommendation about the building to County Executive Charles Gilchrist later this month. He denied the parents' groups assertion that his job is merely to rubber-stamp decisions other officials have already made.

"I spent two hours walking around the school and the neighborhood," he said. "I might make some recommendations of clauses that should be included in the lease, I often do. But, of course, these parents won't believe that."