A top official in the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington, citing the church's active commitment to racial integration, has urged local Catholic schools to deny admissions to students who are trying to "escape" a Montgomery County schools busing plan.
In a letter sent last week to six pastors of the parishes with schools near the Chevy Chase and Rosemary Hills neighborhoods, which are the focus of the county's integration efforts, Chancellor John Donoghue reaffirmed the archdiocese's 10-year-old policy discouraging the use of Catholic schools as alternatives to participation in public school busing programs.
"I need not remind you that in no case should our schools become havens for students whose parents wish to avoid integrated schools," Donoghue wrote after a meeting last week with the pastors and other church and lay officials. He said Catholic schools should accept only students "who seek admission for positive reasons rather than as an escape."
Donoghue's remarks followed several weeks of controversy over the potential threat that private schools pose to the county's integration efforts. County executive Charles W. Gilchrist recently was severely criticized for his decision to lease the empty Larchmont elementary school building, located in the integration area, to the private Grace Episcopal Day School.
Several county council and school board members, who have worried about white students fleeing the public schools, argued that the lease to a private school would undermine the Rosemary Hills-Chevy Chase integration program. As a result of the uproar, Grace Episcopal officials said they would search for another site.
School board President Blair Ewing, who last March led the successful fight to reinstate the controversial pairing of the predominantly minority Rosemary Hills and the largely white Chevy Chase schools, yesterday welcomed the archdiocese's renewed support of school integration.
There has been strong opposition to the county's efforts from some white parents in the Chevy Chase area. More than two-thirds of the parents of Chevy Chase kindergarteners have said they will not enroll their children at Rosemary Hills when busing resumes in September.
Despite the worry about white flight, there are no clear signs that whites are enrolling in Catholic schools to avoid school busing. John Carr, director of the archdiocese's Office of Social Concerns, said yesterday that enrollment in the six Catholic schools in the integration area has been stable for the last three years, after a period of decline.
At least one school, however, Blessed Sacrament, added another kindergarten last year because of increased enrollment.
The actions taken last week by the Chancellor reflect the active role the Catholic church has taken during the last three decades in supporting integration efforts in the Washington area.
In 1950, four years before federal public school desegregation began, Cardinal Patrick O'Boyle ordered the desegregation of all Catholic schools in the area. In 1973, after Prince George's County residents began to flood the Catholic schools with applications during a federal desegregation fight, the Washington archdiocese issued its own policy on integration. And Archbishop James Hickey frequently has encouraged area Catholics to support integration efforts.
"We are very proud of the contributions our schools are making and don't want to see anything develop that might harm that standing," Carr said.