Montgomery County school Superintendent Edward A. Andrews recommended yesterday reinstatement of the desegregation plan at Rosemary Hills Elementary School in Silver Spring that was terminated last year by the now-lame duck conservative majority on the county school board.
The timing of Andrews' proposal effectively blocks any vote by the current board, whose conservative majority will lose control on Dec. 1 as the result of Tuesday's election. Board policy states that changes in school boundaries or reassignment of pupils require that communities be allowed at least a month to respond.
This latest recommendation is certain to renew what was one of the bitterest debates of the conservatives' four-year domination of the board. The board's decision to ignore Andrews' recommendation and close Rosemary Hills and disperse its children to a number of schools was reversed by the state Board of Education -- the first time the state board had ever overturned a local board decision involving a school closing.
The local board's handling of Rosemary Hills, and its recommendations involving two other Silver Spring schools with high minority enrollments, was cited by critics as one of the actions that synthesized antiboard sentiment.
Andrews' resubmitted proposal is similar to the one rejected nearly a year ago by the seven-member school board. In his new plan, Andrews calls for a return to a pairing between Rosemary Hills, located in a predominantly minority area, and Chevy Chase Elementary, which is in an affluent white neighborhood. In addition, Andrews recommends bringing two more schools in the Chevy Chase area, North Chevy Chase and Rollingwood, into the grouping to reduce the racial imbalance.
"All I can say is, I told you so," said board member Joseph Barse, who lost Tuesday and who originally proposed closing Rosemary Hills. "It's exactly what we predicted would happen. Obviously the superintendent waited until after the election to see what type of recommendation he would make. He knew he didn't have a prayer of a chance with the old board if Wallace and I were reelected."
Two of the new board members, Marilyn Praisner and Robert Shoenberg, said yesterday they would reserve judgment until they had seen the superintendent's plan. During the election campaign, both were critical of the board decision to close Rosemary Hills and said they were not opposed to pairing for desegregation purposes. Even Blair Ewing, one of two board members who strenuously opposed the closing, also said he would reserve judgment, adding that the children in those areas had been "disrupted frequently."
Board member Marian Greenblatt, the leader of the conservative majority and now one of two conservatives remaining on the board, said she was stunned by the superintendent's decision. "We've finally had a plan that would bring some stability and now we're playing Ping-Pong with the kids again."
Pat Baptiste, the former president of the Chevy Chase Parent-Teacher Association, said, "I am appalled that the superintendent would again recommend a plan that the community overwhelmingly has said they don't want."
Roscoe Nix, president of the county NAACP, said the latest plan appeared to be a "vast improvement."
Andrews could not be reached for comment, but in the report he wrote, "Everyone . . . wants to ensure that all students . . . receive a high quality education. But this desire . . . must be accompanied by other legal and practical considerations . . . The severe racial imbalance caused by housing patterns in the cluster must be addressed in ways that do not impose a disproportionate burden on any group or part of the community."
Without any desegregation plan, school officials estimate the racial minority enrollment at Rosemary Hills would be more than 95 percent.
In reversing the local board's closing of Rosemary Hills last July, the state board ruled that the closing, in effect, resulted in one-way busing for minorities and thus violated the local board's own racial guidelines.
In response, instead of returning to the existing pairing, as Andrews suggested, the local board voted to close North Chevy Chase and Rollingwood and send students from those two schools to Rosemary Hills and Chevy Chase, respectively. That is the plan that is now in effect. The state board gave temporary approval to that plan, but asked that a final recommendation for the area be submitted to it by Jan. 31.
The latest plan would send kindergarten through second-grade pupils who live in the Rollingwood, Chevy Chase, North Chevy Chase and Rosemary Hills attendance areas to Rosemary Hills beginning next September. (To avoid moving them so often, first graders now at Chevy Chase would stay there.) Most of the third-through-sixth graders from Rosemary Hills and all of them from North Chevy Chase would attend North Chevy Chase, and those from Chevy Chase and Rollingwood, along with 26 from Rosemary Hills, would attend Chevy Chase.