Alexandria public school officials said yesterday that they will reexamine the city's 10-year-old elementary school busing plan this year because of shifts in racial housing patterns and the gradual resegregation of some schools.
Some school board members said yesterday that the review will probably result in a total redistricting of elementary school boundaries by next school year.
"A lot of things have changed and it is time that we seriously look at redistricting," School Board Chairman Judith Feaver said yesterday. "It's going to be unsettling (to communities), but we are getting a lot of requests to do it."
Parents, particularly those living in the city's densely populated west end, have long complained to school board members that theschool system's 1973 busing plan is outdated because it does not reflect major shifts in housing patters of minorities that have occurred since then.
But Lynnwood G. Campbell Jr., one of three blacks on the nine member school board, said yesterday that while he could see room for improvement in the busing plan, he felt the underlying motivation for the calls for changes is "racism."
"It ain't the bus, it's us. Same old problems,'" Campbell said yesterday, paraphrasing Operation PUSH director the Rev. Jesse Jackson.
Spokesman for civil rights organizations that lobbied for busing in 1973 were skeptical, however, when they learned that the school board intended to reconsider the 10-year-old reorganization plan.
"I have no qualms about them studying changes they think should be made, but the NAACP, along with other interested groups, would like to see proof that these changes in population are stable," said Ulysses Calhoun, president of the Alexandria chapter of the NAACP. The school board, at its first regular meeting of the school year Wednesday, is expected to schedule a public hearing on the issue.
School officials acknowledged that in some cases some black and white grade school students are being bused 45 minutes across town, past their neighborhood schools, to schools where they already represent the majority racial group.
"I think that's one of the chief reasons people living here in the west end are taking their kids out of public schools," said Gia Adams, president of the John Adams Elementary school, located in western Alexandria.
When Alexandria adopted the busing plan in 1973 to achieve racial balance, there were 7,700 students in 15 elementary schools. Of that number, 63 percent were white, 33 percent black and 4 percent other races.
Since then Alexandria has closed three of its elementary schools and the student population has shrunk to 5,393 students. The white student population has dropped to 35 percent of the total number of elementary school students, while the black student population has risen to 51.3 percent. In addition, students from other racial minorities now represent 13.7 percent of the student population.
Parents at John Adams, for example, now feel that their neighborhood has become sufficiently intergrated to support a racially balanced school without busing.
Currently, under the school system's desegregation plan, John Adams has classes for kindergarten through third grade. Students from the John Adams neighborhood are bused across town to Cora Kelly Elementary school in the heavily black-populated Lynhaven neighborhood for the fourth through sixth grade.
"That has to be one of the longest bus rides in town," said Robert M. Harper, executive director of the school system's educational facilities about the 45 minute trip from John Adams to Cora Kelly.
Harper said some schools are underused because of the decline in the school-age population in some neighborhoods.
James P. Akin, the system's executive assistant for research, planning and evaluation, said yesterday that he will soon begin a computer "simulation" that would reassign on paper all of the city's elementary students to schools closer to their communities. The project is intended to help determine if busing is necessary to sustain integration in the schools.