Board of education members declined to testify and the panel's own lawyers refused to divulge the advice they gave their clients, but the appeal process in Montgomery County's controversial school closings cases is moving forward, with the filing of legal briefs by both sides.
Silver Spring-Takoma Park area parents have alleged that a series of decisions last November to close or alter attendance boundaries of six schools will unconstitutionally "resegregate" the county. They have asked the Maryland State Board of Education to overturn the local board actions as "arbitrary, unreasonable and illegal."
In February, a hearing examiner listened to four days of testimony. The examiner has promised his recommendation will be forwarded by May to the state board, which never has overturned a school closing.
During the proceedings, School Board lawyers refused to allow members who made the disputed decisions to testify about their intent. And claiming attorney-client privilege, the lawyers rejected requests that written legal advice to the board be made public. Lawyers for the parents said they believed the opinions "cast doubt upon the appropriateness of the actions" of the board.
The briefs submitted last week restated many of the facts and arguments presented before. Lawyers for the School Board denied its actions were racist in effect or intent. Board decisions, they said, reflected an efficient "facilities" plan resulting from declining enrollments.
"Improvement of racial balance is not the sole objective of a facilities planning policy," the board's brief said. In any case, it argued, the state board shouldn't "exercise its powers to determine federal constitutional issues" of alleged racial discrimination.
Lawyers representing the parents said board actions were designed for the "protection of majority students" and violated the board's own policies and procedures. The lawyers asked that the state board not only overturn the local actions but also issue "concrete guidelines" for the county board to follow in making amends.