Citing the need for traditionalism in education, Herbert Grossman says he worries that the Montgomery school board will develop too "permissive" an attitude toward the county's children.
He believes the policies of the current board are jeopardized by candidates who are largely "obsessed with race and will allow that to determine all of their policies."
Fifteen candidates are vying for four at-large seats on the Montgomery school board. At least 10 of the board hopefuls, Grossman said, have shown they are not committed to educational issues because they want school policy to be "determined by race."
"Instead of furthering integration, they do just the opposite," he said.
He maintains that a system in which students of similar achievement levels are placed in the same classroom will help further integration, despite attacks by some who say that "ability grouping" is racist because a disproportionate number of minority students are low achievers.
"If you do away with ability groupings, you can't hide the fact from parents that the education is going to be inferior," he said. He believes that people moved out of the District of Columbia because of a decline in educational quality and that this caused a racially unbalanced population. He warns that the same thing could happen in Montgomery County.
"You can't coerce people into staying in an area unless you can assure them their educational needs will be taken care of," he said.
Grossman emphasized that the determination of ability groups should remain a flexible process involving parents, teachers and principals, and that school officials should have the option to "move children around during the semester."
An administrative judge at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Grossman criticized the tactics of EDPAC, an educational political action committee formed last year amid increasing dissatisfaction with the policies of the current board majority. He said the group first picked candidates and then "polled people to find out what issues they stand for."
A 13-year resident of Siver Spring, Grossman is running on a slate with incumbent board member and former board vice president Joseph Barse and Elizabeth Witzgall, a business law instructor at Montgomery College. They claim in their campaign literature, "We're Proud of the Record of the 'New Majority' of the Board of Education."
This same board majority, however, recently has been criticized sharply by EDPAC candidates and others for voting to eliminate a two-day unit on contraceptive instruction from its health education program, as well as its decision to close Rosemary Hills Elementary School and alter the attendence patterns of Montgomery Blair High and Eastern Junior High. Critics say this would shift the schools' racial balance unfavorably.
After the state school board overturned the Montgomery board's decision regarding the three schools, the local board voted to appeal the decision in court.
Grossman called the state board's decision "shortsighted" and "politically motivated," saying "they just condemned the Montgomery board but didn't venture into a solution themselves."
Grossman said his only disagreement with the current board majority has been over its decision to close, or target for closing, about 50 county schools in recent years. "I don't see that much savings fiscally."
He said the primary reason for closing a school should be that it has too few students for effective ability grouping.
As a member of the board's 25-member citizen advisory committtee on comprehensive school facilties, Grossman said he was "a minority of one" against massive school closures.
Grossman, who described himself as in his forties, and his wife, Sheila, a phobia therapist, have three sons, Marc, 12, who will attend E. Brooke Lee Junior High School this fall, and Brian, 10, and Neil, 5, who attend Glenallan Elementary School.
Raised in New York City's Spanish Harlem and educated at Cornell, Columbia and Georgetown universities, the former trial attorney with the U.S. Justice Department said he resents how some people have turned the subject of discipline into a race issue because a disproportionate number of minority children are suspended.
Those candidates who call for the elimination of student suspensions "don't reflect the feelings of . . . their constituency," he said.
A supporter of firmer disciplinary standards in schools, Grossman believes disruptive behavior will decrease if students are made clearly aware of the penalties. Otherwise, the disruptive 5 percent, he estimated, "can ruin it for the other 95 percent."
He favors suspending students from classes, but requiring them to attend school and study in a supervised environment, rather than forbidding students to attend school.
In addition to Barse, incumbent Carol Wallace is seeking reelection. The other seats to be filled are now held by Eleanor Zappone and Richard Claypoole, who was appointed recently to fill the unexpired term of Elizabeth Spencer, who resigned to seek the Republican nomination for the 8th District Congressional seat. A nonpartisan primary on Sept. 14 will narrow the field of candidates to eight.
Grossman hesitates to give himself a political label. "I am not all that impressed with the label 'liberal' or 'conservative' " regarding education, he said.
Though he supports stricter attendance requirements, more emphasis on homework and final exams in high school academic subjects, generally considered as conservative educational policies, Grossman said, that "doesn't make me a Reaganite."