The Montgomery County school superintendent has recommended major changes in his overall plan for closing schools that would preserve school groupings established five years ago in the Silver Spring area for racial integration purposes.
Superintendent Edward Andrews, in a memo to School Board members this week, said that public testimony by citizens in the Blair High School area in Silver Spring had persuaded him to alter the master plan for closing schools that was released last August.
Although Andrews makes only scant mention of racial balance in his memo, his new recommendations deal with the issue directly and go against the preferences that some board members have expressed in the past.
Foremost in the memo is a recommendation that all elementary schools in the Blair area be kept open during the next five years and that the grouping of five schools in the area be retained. Under the original plan, one school, Oakview, was scheduled to close.
The majority of the school board favors splitting all schools that are paired or grouped. Under the pairing system, established to even out racial balances, two or more elementary school communities share the same school for kindergarten through third grade and another school for grades four through six. In this way, children from each community are bused to a different school for an equivalent period of time.
Board President Carol F. Wallace has suggested that the county convert paired elementary schools to a kindergarten-through-sixth-grade structure. She and others have argued that such a system would insure uniformity and be better educationally.
Many elementary school communities, including those in the Blair area, have argued for preserving the grouping of schools. They say that the system has worked, providing integration and good education.
In his memo to board members, Andrews states, "I support these cooperative educational groupings."
Further, Andrews stresses the need to maintain so-called "magnet" programs, such as intensive French courses and classes for the gifted and talented, that have helped maintain a racial balance in the Blair area.
Specifically he suggests that the French program be placed in a central location to encourage voluntary two-way busing. If this action is taken, he says, it will provide "compelling evidence" of the school system's support for minority balance.
The issue of minority balance has been addressed repeatedly by one board member, Blair Ewing, who has stated publicly that the board's actions in closing schools already have set a pattern that could be viewed as discriminatory and that could be subject to legal challenge. Ewing has cited examples of boundary changes and school closings affecting the Blair area.
Despite Andrews' new proposals, the Blair area will still have the highest minority student population of any section of the county. Under Andrews' new plan, if adopted by the board, six of the nine elementary schools in the area would have minority enrollments exceeding 50 percent. Several of those would be well above 60 percent. Under county guidelines, the school system must investigate ways of attracting white students to schools where minority children comprise more than 60 percent of the student body.
The schools now grouped together for integration purposes in the Blair area are Montgomery Knolls and Pine Crest elementaries, and Takoma Park, Piney Branch and East Silver Spring elementaries.
In action last night, the board voted to close Arcola, Forest Grove and Saddlebrook elementaries.