In January 1973 a federal judge ordered school buses to roll between the black community around John Bayne Elementary school, near District Heights in Prince George's County, and a largely white area of the county just outside the Capital Beltway. On Jan. 29, Bayne went from 77 percent black to 58 percent white.
But by 1977 Bayne was a majority black school once again. And this year, the school was 91.6 percent black--a visible symbol for some parents and some NAACP officials that desegregation efforts have failed in the county.
The 1973 federal district judge, Frank A. Kaufman, ruled recently that "vestiges of segregation" remain in schools like Bayne after 10 years although the school system has done nothing to intentionally discriminate against black students.
About 23 percent of Prince George's black students are being taught in 12 schools that the judge found are more than 80 percent black. But no one, including the judge, is sure what, if anything, can be done about that.
The school system, which cut back busing for purposes of desegregation in 1980, has no plans to resume more busing.
NAACP officials said that they may request more busing in court hearings later this summer. But population shifts of where blacks and whites live in the county--partly a result of the original school busing order--mean more busing might be impossible without bus rides lasting 35 minutes or more--longer than the judge has said he would allow.
Sizing up what is essentially a stalemate, school board member Bonnie Johns recalled a recently published prediction made 40 years ago by the legendary black historian and educator W.E.B. DuBois.
"The most difficult stage in the struggle for racial justice in America will be reached," Johns quoted DuBois as saying, "when it becomes clear that fundamental inequalities persist despite legislation, litigation and direct confrontation."
Johns added, "That's exactly where we are now. Litigation changes nothing, legislation is zilch, and direct confrontation is out of the question."
Prince George's can be viewed today as three concentric semicircular bands, radiating from the District of Columbia's eastern border. The band within the Capital Beltway, where Bayne is located, contains about 64 percent of the county's black population. It also contains the 11 other schools that violate Kaufman's recommendation that no school have more than 80 percent black students. The average school population in that area is 74 percent black.
Around the perimeter of the Beltway is a band of fairly well integrated schools and communities, including the Kettering area that was paired with John Bayne in desegregation. Schools in that band are, on the average, 52 percent black.
The outermost band, sparsely populated except for larger concentrations in Laurel, Bowie, Marlboro and Piscataway, is predominantly white and has been spared from extensive school busing because of distance. Twenty-five percent of the public school student population in that band is black.
What happened in the John Bayne neighborhood typifies what happened at other schools in the inner Beltway area.
Bayne lies between a number of large garden apartment complexes along one part of Walker Mill Road and some predominantly black subdivisions of detached homes on quiet streets along another part of Walker Mill. To desegregate in 1973, white students were bused from what was then predominantly white Kettering, about six miles away. Black students were bused to Kettering area schools.
But, as school officials testified during the trial, white students began to disappear from the bus.
Nancy Turner, one of only a few white Kettering residents who still has a daughter at Bayne, said some of her neighbors moved away to avoid busing. Others simply told the school officials that their children had to be kept by babysitters after school in neighborhoods that were not being bused, reason enough to justify a transfer.
The whites that moved were often replaced by blacks, and Kettering became an integrated community, much as the county itself went from 13 percent to 37 percent black between 1970 and 1980, largely as a result of more affluent blacks moving out from the District.
In 1980, following the report of a citizens' advisory commission, the county school board voted to reverse much of its "cross-busing," an action to which Kaufman referred in his recent order as a violation of court-ordered desegregation.
Some 134 blacks and 46 whites returned to Kettering area schools while 98 blacks and 5 whites from the Bayne neighborhood who had been bused as far as Kettering started walking to Bayne. Bayne presently has 379 students; only 32 are white.
Several Bayne parents feel their children would have been better off in a school where the racial balance was closer to that of the county's overall elementary school enrollment, which is 53 percent black.
"It would be better because they would learn more," said Barbara Holland, 29, whose son finished the sixth grade at Bayne this year. Though she cannot point to any resources her son didn't enjoy, she said she still believes that with more whites in school, "you don't get cheated out of anything."
Bayne principal Carolyn J.B. Howard doesn't feel her children have been cheated. "We get the resources," she says. "We have super kids at Bayne. We have our share of problems but no more than other schools."
Sherman Grundy, who owns a home near Bayne, was glad his daughter was bused to Woodmore Elementary near Kettering, before the 1980 busing change, even though he preferred the instructional program at Bayne.
"Integration: that outweighed the difference between the schools," said Grundy. "From an integrated environment everybody gets out of the starting blocks at the same time. Coming from a completely black environment, a kid might be a little more reluctant to approach a white boss or a white co-worker."
Other Bayne parents maintain that more resources, not additional white students, would improve learning at the school, where average third and fifth grade reading scores were five months to a year below national and county averages.
"It won't matter if they bus in or out," said Gwendolyn Chavers, mother of a Bayne sixth grader. "But I think they need more programs to help learning ability."
In 1980, Bayne had one class for talented and gifted students. Of the 24 students, only 8 were black, according to records filed with the courts. NAACP officials cited that small fact along with many others in an attempt to show that blacks at schools like Bayne were not getting equal access to educational opportunities, a point Kaufman disagreed with in his recent ruling.
School officials said recent budget cuts make extra aid at Bayne and other schools impossible.
But John Rosser, NAACP second vice president, hopes that Kaufman's recent ruling--that the school system should return to the jurisdiction of the court until it achieves desegregation--will provide a reason for officials to talk to the NAACP about resources and other issues.
Meanwhile, Nancy Turner, the Kettering resident who refused to pull her child out of Bayne when her neighbors did, holds little hope for a change in racial balance there.
"The folks in Bowie are always going to be immune, so I don't know what you can do," she said. "You can't just manufacture white kids to send. And if you do it will be just like 1973 all over again."