A court-appointed panel of desegregation experts has criticized a controversial proposal by school officials that would close 22 Prince George's County schools, saying that the plan places a disproportionate share of the burden of integration on black students.
The report said the county could desegregate more schools by "reassigning" more students, white and black. Reassignment is commonly achieved through busing and sometimes also by redrawing school boundaries.
However, the report does not necessarily call for more overall busing because there may be some unnecessary busing that could be eliminated, according to Robert L. Crain, a member of the panel. The panel also does not address directly the matter of school closings.
The report was submitted yesterday afternoon to U.S. District Court Judge Frank A. Kaufman in Baltimore, who must approve any desegregation plan. The judge, who appointed the panel last summer to aid the schools in drawing up a desegregation plan, has directed the members to submit a final report Feb. 1 recommending specific steps to further desegregate the schools.
"Our quarrel with the report is not that it does not desegregate certain schools," said Crain, a research scientist at Johns Hopkins University. "It is that they didn't explain why they didn't desegregate certain schools."
The report does not make recommendations for or against the school closings, which, under the staff-written proposal, would affect more than 8,000 students in 16 elementary schools and six middle schools beginning next school year.
"We think the question of how many schools to close is their the schools' business. The experts are only concerned with the impact of school closings on desegregation," Crain said.
Robert L. Green, president of the University of the District of Columbia, headed the five-member panel. Green was not available for comment yesterday.
The question of desegregation has been a volatile issue in Prince George's County. The NAACP filed a suit a decade ago charging that the county had never fully desegregated its school system. The plan to close 22 schools was submitted last spring in response to a desegregation order by Kaufman in the NAACP case.
NAACP attorney Joseph M. Hassett cautioned yesterday that he had not read the report thoroughly, but said, "We wholeheartedly agree with the general tenor of the experts' finding that the school board report is inadequate. More factual justification is needed for the general conclusions in the school board report."
School administrators and board members received the report late yesterday and declined to comment.
The panel made eight specific recommendations, including consideration of additional busing of more black students to predominantly white schools and more busing of white students to integrated or predominantly black schools in the central and western parts of the county.
"The plan seems unnecessarily conservative in the busing of black students," the experts wrote. "We recommend that the court consider requesting the board to weigh reassignment of additional black students to other schools with large white enrollment. . . . The plan is even more conservative in its reassignment of white students."
The panel recommends that more schools be brought within the court's racial guidelines that require school populations to be no more than 80 percent and no less than 10 percent black.
Moreover, the experts say the staff proposal fails to provide evidence for contentions that bringing all schools within the guidelines would cause white flight or require a new desegregation plan.