Candidates for the Montgomery County Board of Education disagreed last night on the advisability of action the board's majority took last year that would have curtailed integration efforts at Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring.
The action, in which the board voted to reject a plan that would have decreased minority enrollment substantially, was overturned in an unprecedented move by the State Board of Education and made Blair a focal point of controversy. Last night's candidate forum, attended by about 80 people, was held in the Blair library.
"Not only did the local school board violate its own policy" concerning integration, said Barry Klein, a self-styled moderate who is running for the board on a slate with Timothy O'Shea, "but what's worse is that the solutions they came up with were bad solutions."
Klein was referring to the majority's attempt to divert students in three predominantly white schools north of the Beltway away from Blair. Superintendent Edward Andrews, who had proposed sending these students to Blair, said his plan would decrease minority enrollment at Blair from 58.6 percent to around 50 percent.
One reason board members gave for rejecting Andrews' plan was that parents from the three schools had threatened to enroll their children in private schools.
Blair's current minority enrollment is 60.3 percent; the countywide minority average is 25.4 percent.
Joseph Barse, a member of the board majority who is seeking reelection, defended the board's action, saying, "when it was alleged that we violated our own policy I naturally looked inward to see if we did in fact do that." He said he had reviewed a legal opinion prepared by the school system's lawyer and that his "faith in the validity and wisdom of that decision was restored."
Carol Wallace, the other board incumbent seeking reelection, noted that she had abstained from voting on the Blair matter and she felt "both the board and superintendent were wrong."
Four of the board's seven seats are at stake in the Nov. 2 election, and a full slate has been fielded by an organization called the Education Political Action Committee. James Cronin, one of the EDPAC slate, said, "I am chagrined to have the only local board overturned by the state board." The other members of the slate, Odessa Shannon, Marilyn Praisner and Robert Shoenberg, said they supported the state board's reversal of the action.