The Montgomery County school board, reversing an earlier decision by school officials, has voted to allow the transfer of a white student from one Silver Spring elementary school to another that has a smaller proportion of minority students.
After an hour-long hearing and more than two hours of secret deliberations, the board voted 5 to 2 Monday to allow Nathan Reeves, 5, to transfer this fall from East Silver Spring Elementary to a special French program at Oak View Elementary.
School officials previously had denied a request by James and Jane Reeves that their child be allowed to transfer from East Silver Spring, more than 60 percent minority, to Oak View, roughly 40 percent minority.
Such a transfer threatened to disrupt the county's integration plan for the cluster of schools in the Takoma Park area, said school officials, who also rejected at least five other transfer requests involving East Silver Spring.
In a 30-minute presentation to the board, the Reeves asked that an exception be made for their son, who has prepared for the French immersion program several years under the guidance of his mother, a French teacher.
"Our case was exceptional enough to warrant an exception to the transfer policy," said Jane Reeves, adding she was "elated" by the decision.
A final vote on the Reeves' request is expected Thursday. Board members said they expected no change in the 5-to-2 vote.
"This was an easy decision for me," said board member Suzanne K. Peyser, one of those voting for the Reeves transfer. "Any parent who wants to get their child into French immersion should be able to."
Board member Marian L. Greenblatt, who also voted for the transfer, said the vote "will not adversely affect the racial balance" in nearby schools.
"Parents don't enroll their kids in a French immersion program for frivolous reasons," Greenblatt said. "It helps stabilize the schools. I think we should encourage a freer transfer policy."
Voting with Greenblatt and Peyser were board members James E. Cronin, Marilyn J. Praisner and Robert E. Shoenberg, according to board members. Board president Blair Ewing and board member Odessa M. Shannon voted against the transfer.
Greenblatt, Peyser and other board members stressed, however, that the Reeves decision sets no precedent for other white families seeking transfers from East Silver Spring.
The school board can in certain cases "make a decision that upholds existing policy, while disagreeing with the application of the policy," board president Ewing said. Ewing, citing the board's confidentiality rules, declined to comment further on the Reeves case. The board's hearing was closed to the public at the Reeves' request, officials said.