The Montgomery County school board's vote to reinstate a controversial desegregation plan at Rosemary Hills Elementary in Silver Spring drew praise yesterday from civil rights leaders and harsh criticism from some members of the predominantly white community involved in the program.
The board's action pairs students from the high-minority Rosemary Hills area with students from affluent and mainly white areas in Chevy Chase. The decision came after five hours of often bitter debate, during which a number of comments by board members drew hissing from the audience, and some board members accused others of racism or reverse discrimination--a reflection of the acrimony that has plagued the desegregation program since its inception more than six years ago.
Some members of the Chevy Chase Elementary community complained that their school had been paired with Rosemary Hills for six years, beginning in the fall of 1976, for reasons of desegregation, and that the plan failed to educate their children properly.
"We're getting our hands slapped and we're the only ones who've tried to make it work," said Elaine Shapiro, who has two children attending Chevy Chase, including one who attended Rosemary Hills last year. "In theory it is wonderful, but this is not a black-white issue. It is a socio-economic one."
The approved plan, similar to one that was in effect until this year, calls for students from the Chevy Chase neighborhood to attend Rosemary Hills from pre-school through second grade and to return to Chevy Chase for grades 3-6. In addition, students from another school, North Chevy Chase, will attend Rosemary Hills until third grade, when they, too, return home. Rosemary Hills students will attend either North Chevy Chase or Chevy Chase for the last three grades of their elementary education. Students now attending Chevy Chase will be able to finish there.
Civil rights leaders called the decision a victory and welcomed what they called a new era of good relations between minorities and the school system.
"This decision is a fair and equitable one," said Roscoe Nix, president of the county's NAACP chapter, who was among those who campaigned successfully last year in behalf of four candidates for the board who he thought would look more favorably on school desegregation.
Board members stressed during the long meeting that they had been mandated to act by the state board of education. Last year, the state board overturned the old Montgomery board's plan to disperse Rosemary Hills pupils to four schools in the Bethesda-Chevy Chase area, and mandated the local board to establish a plan under which the burden of desegregation was shared equally between white and minority students.
Without some form of desegregation program, they said, Rosemary Hills would have a minority enrollment of more than 90 percent. Most alternate plans they received from the community, they said, put an unfair burden on Rosemary Hills children.
School administrators told the board that the program now in effect at Rosemary Hills--a combination with North Chevy Chase Elementary that takes an experimental, open-classroom approach--is not effective for disadvantaged students.
At one point late Thursday night, board member James Cronin, in one of the strongest admonitions of the evening, accused Chevy Chase parents of trying to pressure the board by threatening to pull their children out of the school systerm rather than sending them to Rosemary Hills.
"I do not want minority chidren in the county to be seen as detriments or drawbacks or threats to education," Cronin said. The Chevy Chase community, he said, must "look within itself for its conscience. This was not the best of years for the Chevy Chase image."
(In late editions yesterday, The Washington Post incorrectly reported that some members of the audience said they would withdraw their children from the public schools if they were required to go to school with blacks.)
Cronin's remarks drew hisses from the audience, and later a number of Chevy Chase parents said Cronin did not understand that the problem was not one of race, but of economics. In addition, they said, it was time other schools in their area participate in the desegregation efforts. (Superintendent Edward Andrews had recommended a plan that involved six schools, but that was rejected by the board because they said it involved transporting too many students.)
"I would not object to my child going to Rosemary Hills if everyone else in the cluster had to be bused also," said Carole Berke of Chevy Chase. But Berke, who has a child in preschool, said she would not send the child to public school next year because of the approved plan. "I have worked with disadvantaged black children and I know how great their needs are," but the money just isn't there to help both them and my child, Berke said.
Boardmembers Marian Greenblatt and Suzanne Peyser, holdovers from the board that voted to close Rosemary Hills, were the only members who opposed the motion.