After a month of heated public debate and nearly a year of wrangling among school administrators, the Montgomery County school board begins today to make final decisions on a controversial school closing plan that will directly affect racial integration and busing patterns in county schools over the next 15 years.
Tonight's board vote involves a proposal to close two of the county's 22 high schools. During the next four weeks, board members will decide the fates of 29 other schools now targeted for closing and will redraw numerous school boundaries that dictate enrollment patterns in a county whose minority population has doubled in the past 10 years.
When the board finishes its work on the plan, thousands of students will be assigned to new schools. Schools will be separated by greater distances and more children will ride buses to attend them. Fewer schools will be able to house day care programs. Teachers and principals will be transferred. New school rivalries will blossom, and old ones will die out.
The closing plan came in response to declining student enrollment, but it was clear from the beginning that there was little prospect of producing a proposal that would satisfy all sides.
Ever since the plan was first devised, then revised, then amended again, there have been charges of political manipulation by the school board. Some minority groups and liberal whites have suggested that proposed changes in attendance patterns and boundaries, though formulated by superintendant Edward Andrews, are an attempt by the conservative board to renew racial segregation.
The debate over closings has led to feuding between different regions of the county. Parents who live below the beltway in Silver Spring and Takoma Park, both areas of high integration and liberal politics, feel that the conservative board will decide to put the biggest burden on their district while sparing communities that are more affluent and less integrated.
The county Parent-Teacher Association also has been a vocal critic. Its delegate assembly stated last week that the solutions recommended "have not imrpoved the opportunities for quality integrated education in the schools."
Other parents' groups have accused two board members of conflict of interest. One group urged board member Marian L. Greenblatt to abstain from voting on a boundary change involving the school where her son is enrolled in third grade. Board member Suzanne Peyser, whose children attend private school, came under attack for a "strategy session" she held with parents from the school that several of her relatives attend.
The board is due to complete work on the closing plan by Nov.24. Below is the schedule for votes on each of the proposed changes. All meetings will be held at 7:30 p.m. at Wheaton High School.
Nov. 2: Peary, Northwood and Einstein high schools and affected boundary changes.
Nov. 3: Will meet only if business is left over from previous day.
Nov. 4: Belt, Parkland, Sligo, Takoma, and Key junior high schools and Newport Middle School.
Nov. 5: Up-county boundary changes.
Nov. 11 Brookmont, Bradley, Radnor, Ayrlawn, Congressional, and Montrose elementary schools.
Nov. 12: Lone Oak, West Rockville, Hungerford Park, Georgetown Hill, Bells Mill, and Lake Normandy.
Nov. 16: Connecticut Park, Rocking Horse Road, Harmony Hills, Brookhaven, Lucy Barnsley, and Rock Creek Valley.
Nov. 18: Arcola, Forest Grove, Pleasant View, Kensington, Rock Creek Palisades, Georgian Forest and Saddlebrook elementary schools.
Nov. 19: Lynnbrook, Rollingwood, North Chevy Chase, Rosemary Hills, and Cloverly elementary schools.
Nov. 23: Four Corners, Oak View, Woodside elementary schools.
Nov. 24: Brookview and boundary changes for Sherwood, Springbrook, and Blair High Schools.