A black Prince George's school administrator suggested to a federal judge today that the attitudes of teachers, both black and white, contribute to black students' receiving proportionately more suspensions than whites in the county's schools.
Parthenia Pruden, a 25-year veteran of the school system and its third black assistant superintendent, told U.S. District Court Judge Frank A. Kaufman that some white teachers are still learning how to deal with black students in the system that was desegregated by his court order only 10 years ago.
"I suspect that there are still quite a few people that are being exposed to people who are quite different from them," Pruden said.
She also said black teachers and administrators can be twice as hard on black students.
"There are times that black teachers feel that every other black reflects what they are, and they may react more harshly," Pruden said.
Although blacks accounted for 49 percent of the enrollment in 1980, they received more than twice the number of suspensions as whites that year. One out of 10 black students received a suspension in 1980 compared with one in 20 whites.
The NAACP contends that the disparity in suspensions between black and white students supports its charge that the county's schools have not complied with Kaufman's 1972 order to end dual school systems in the county.
Pruden, one of three area superintendents in the courtroom, was called to the stand by lawyers for the school board to clarify a minor administrative point but she remained to give her opinions on a wide range of the issues posed by the judge, including minority-hiring practices.
"I may sound like I'm waving a flag but I'm very much impressed by Prince George's employment record since 1976," Pruden said. "There is a real opportunity given for people to qualify and be employed," she added.
When Kaufman asked her opinion of statistics that show the number of black teachers and administrators is less than the percentage of blacks who live in the county, Pruden responded: "What I believe is happening is not to give us preference but to give us opportunities." She said that when she began in the system as a math teacher she could only teach in two high schools because of her race.
At the end of her testimony, Pruden received Kaufman's thanks and a kiss from school Superintendent Edward J. Feeney, but the judge was less satisfied with the board's first witness on the subject of discipline.
George Brown, supervisor of pupil personnel services, told Kaufman that disruptive student behavior can be traced to certain home and community factors, including economic background, family structure and home discipline. But he added that those factors are no more prevalent in the black community than the white.
Despite several pressing questions, Brown, who is black, refused to link discipline problems to race.
"I don't like to say black and white--I'm looking at family structure, your honor," Brown said.
Kaufman remarked that with those kinds of answers, Brown was "skating on thin ice and attempting not to fall through."
Lawyers for the NAACP pointed out that 70 percent of the suspensions received by blacks were for five infractions of the code of student conduct--fighting, insubordination, disrespect, disruption and loitering. Brown said that during the late 1970s his department made several efforts to reduce the number of black suspensions, but not because they were disproportionately high compared with whites.