The Montgomery County school board submitted yesterday a controversial desegregation plan for Rosemary Hills Elementary to the Maryland State Board of Education, marking the formal end of one of the school system's bitterest debates.
The school board's action, after last-minute modification early yesterday of a plan approved last week, reflects a dramatic philosophical shift and signals a new era in board and minority relations.
Last year the seven-member body, which included four members no longer there, sparked protests in the black community when it dismantled a desegregation program that paired high-minority Rosemary Hills with the predominantly white Chevy Chase Elementary School.
The previous board tried to close Rosemary Hills, but the closing was overturned by the State Board of Education in an unprecedented move. The state board ruled that minorities were unfairly bearing the brunt of desegregation efforts. Yesterday's action, which virtually reinstated the original desegregation plan, was heralded by the NAACP as a good way to meet the state board's demands for another approach. "It's a good plan from this board," said Hanley Norment, a spokesman for the Montgomery County chapter of the NAACP.
Board President Blair Ewing said the board had "addressed the issue of the equitable burden of desegregation."
His optimism was not shared, however, by some angry parents from communities that will be affected by the plan, nor by some Rosemary Hills parents who said they fear some elements of the proposal might lead to a further decline in enrollment at the school.
Under the approved plan, pupils from Chevy Chase and North Chevy Chase elementaries will attend Rosemary Hills for preschool through second grades. Those pupils will return to their neighborhood schools for grades three through six, and Rosemary Hills students will be split between one of those two schools for their remaining grades.
Also, pupils from the former Lynbrook Elementary School area, who would have gone to Bethesda Elementary, will attend Rosemary Hills beginning with the kindergarten class next year. And, in a one-time move, second graders at Rosemary Hills will attend North Chevy Chase next year.
These two actions will help give Rosemary Hills a minority enrollment next year of 48.9 percent. Without a plan, school officials said, minority enrollment at that school would exceed 90 percent.
Cathy Wolf, president of the Chevy Chase Elementary PTA, was one of many parents upset at the board's decision. "It's reverse discrimination," said Wolf, whose two children attended Rosemary Hills last year. Wolf and a number of parents feel Chevy Chase Elementary has been asked unfairly again to participate in a program that they say does not work socially or educationally.
"We tried this program in good faith for six years, and it did not work," said Jane Laughton, a former president of the Rosemary Hills PTA who has a child at Chevy Chase Elementary and another who eventually will attend Rosemary Hills under the new plan. "We're not arguing for a segregation plan; we're fighting to keep our fully integrated school."
Chevy Chase now has a minority enrollment of 36.8 percent due to the board action last year placing Rosemary Hills pupils in the school.
Board members and School Superintendent Edward Andrews said they could not come up with a plan to make all schools in the cluster K-6 (kindergarten through grade 6), which is what some parents want, without busing more minority children than white children for purposes of integration.
Under most plans submitted to the board, some children from Rosemary Hills would have been the only pupils in the cluster to be bused away from their neighborhood school. Under yesterday's plan, pupils from North Chevy Chase, Chevy Chase and Rosemary Hills will all spend part of their elementary education away from their neighborhood school.