The Montgomery County Board of Education, in a final review of its school closing decisions, reversed one elementary school closing early yesterday but rejected a move to reopen Takoma Park Junior High School, despite a noisy protest from members of the Takoma Park community.
"Thus endeth the great charade of due process," said Takoma Park Mayor Sam Abbott, who led a group of about 75 citizens in a spirited demonstration urging the board to reverse its decision last month to close the school. Parents and local residents said the school was a unifying force in a community of diverse ethnic groups and income levels.
Shortly after 2 a.m. yesterday, board Vice President Elizabeth Spencer moved to reconsider the Takoma Park closing, but the board majority defeated her motion.
"Cowards. We'll see you in federal court," Abbott yelled at the board after climbing to the stage and attempting to take over the microphone from board President Carol F. Wallace.
Board members at the meeting did not respond directly to the concerns raised by the Takoma Park citizens. At the time of the original vote, those who supported closing the school cited the poor condition of the building as a primary factor in their decision.
Spencer asked Superintendent Edward Andrews whether he had reconsidered his recommendation to close the school and send its students to Eastern Junior High. He said he recognized the school's "unique contribution" but that on educational grounds he could not change his original proposal.
Toward the end of the uproarious seven-hour meeting that began Monday evening, the board changed its decision to close Brookhaven Elementary in Rockville, a school the superintendent had suggested keeping open. The board voted last month to close Brookhaven instead of Harmony Hills Elementary; now both schools will remain open.
The decision came on a motion by board member Eleanor D. Zappone, who said she had been mistaken in casting her original vote to close the school and had changed her mind after visiting Brookhaven.
The board also voted to delay the closing date of Georgetown Hill Elementary School from 1982 to 1983.
Board members may have set the stage for a new controversy Monday night by raising the possibility of closing Blair High School in Silver Spring sometime in the future.
The board agreed to discuss at a later meeting a proposal by board member Joseph R. Barse to have the school superintendent investigate ways of closing Blair instead of Northwood High.
Barse produced a long memo that said the board could improve racial balance in the area by dispersing the high-minority population at Blair into two lower-minority high schools north of the Beltway, Northwood and Einstein High.
The board rejected last month a proposal by Superintendent Andrews that would have added a significant number of white students to Blair and to Eastern Junior High. Andrews' plan would have reduced the current minority student enrollment at Blair by as much as 8 percent from its current level of 58 percent, which is the highest of any of the county's 22 high schools.
Board member Marian L. Greenblatt, in a long statement earlier in the evening, defended the board's decisions on racial balance questions and said that by withdrawing several high-minority elementary school populations from the Blair area, the board had helped "to reduce the concentration of minority students."
However, the board actions she was referring to will not decrease the percentage of minority students in the area or at Blair. She said later that lowering the actual number of minority students at Blair would help improve racial balance by "diffusing" the current concentration of those students at Blair.
Board member Blair G. Ewing issued a stinging attack on some his colleagues, saying the board had passed up an obvious opportunity to improve racial balance in the Blair area.
"This is the board majority which has divided the races, caused damage to the reputation of schools by suggesting that some are inferior to others and that the inferior ones are in the high-minority areas, treated communities inequitably by granting special favors to some, and this is the board that is leaving a trail of anguish, fear, and bitterness throughout the county," Ewing said.
Andrews said Monday that the school system staff looked into the possibility of closing Blair while preparing the original school closing plan, but that such an alternative did not seem feasible.
The underlying message of Barse's proposal, echoed in Greenblatt's statement, is that the board may not be willing to raise $3 million to renovate the main classroom building at Blair.
"It is very doubtful that the school system should deliberately rebuild such a large-capacity high school when facing further enrollment decline," Barse said. Greenblatt said that, by voting to reduce the number of students at Blair, the board "can now consider the advisability of not renovating 'C' building the main classroom building and avoiding an estimated $3 million renovation."