The Prince George's County Board of Education worked to keep its schools racially balanced after a 1972 desegregation order, but in the face of "black flight" from the District of Columbia, it could not maintain the guidelines in many schools, a former official in charge of school boundaries testified today.
Charles O. Wendorf told U.S. District Court Judge Frank A. Kaufman that he did not feel he was working under a legally imposed guideline after Kaufman surrendered control over the county schools in March 1975, after overseeing the first three stormy years of his court-ordered desegregation. Wendorf said the school system took care not to upset racial balances when closing or opening new schools from that point. But he insisted that moving students to even out the influx of black students that resulted from what he called "black flight" from the city would have made a "patchwork quilt" of school attendance zones.
The county's NAACP chapter, which brought a new legal action last fall, maintains that even though the county's black population surged in the 1970s, school officials could have adjusted boundaries to prevent individual schools from becoming overwhelmingly black. Kaufman today reiterated his belief that the school board was obliged to take reasonable steps to prevent resegregation.
School board lawyer Paul Nussbaum said that once the court gave up control of the schools the board was only admonished not to resegregate, and had no duty to keep some schools from getting more black students as the population shifted. Nussbaum noted that in the case of a school just slightly outside the original Kaufman guideline with no less than 10 percent nor more than 50 percent black enrollment, the difference was sometimes less than a dozen students of one race or the other.
Wendorf, testifying for the school board, described the problems experienced with Concord Elementary to illustrate the difficulty of maintaining enrollment within the guidelines of no less than 10 percent nor more than 50 percent black. At Concord, the board made no attempt to stem the rise in black students.
Located just west of District Heights, Concord's enrollment was 45 percent black before the court-ordered busing began in January 1973, and thus was not included in the busing plan. At that time the county school enrollment was 23.9 percent black.
By September 1975, as the countywide black enrollment reached 33.7 percent, Concord was 64.5 percent black--30 points over the county average compared with a 25 percent standard that Kaufman used in discussing the case today.
Wendorf told Kaufman that the housing patterns had changed unpredictably in the area and that blacks had bought up an apartment complex that was converted to condominiums. He said that when school staff looked at the problem in 1974 they found that white students would have to be transferred from as far away as Andrews Air Force Base, about six miles south. Under questioning by Kaufman, over three objections from Nussbaum, Wendorf told the judge that black and white could have been shifted if a third school, Longfields Elementary, was involved, with a net result of improving racial balance at all three schools.
Wendorf said the changes were not recommended because "it was our hope" that the population near Concord would stabilize. Kaufman then recited the steady rise in black enrollment at the school from 61 percent in 1974 to 85 percent this year.
"I'd say it is unbelievable what happened," Wendorf responded.
At the end of the day's testimony, the judge posed this question for lawyers on both sides: "Is there a difference between people sitting in a room and permitting the room to be flooded by opening a window which had been closed and the same people failing to close a window that was already open?"