The Catholic Archdiocese of Washington, noting the controversy over desegregation in Prince George's County, has reissued a longstanding policy that prohibits its schools from taking students whose families want to avoid desegregation.
The archdiocese also sponsored a meeting yesterday between about 60 Catholic educators and county School Superintendent John A. Murphy in an effort to promote cooperation between the public and private schools in Prince George's on the desegregation issue. Murphy outlined his five-year desegregation proposal, which calls for magnet schools and additional funding for 10 predominantly black schools.
John Carr, secretary for social concerns for the archdiocese, said the Catholic leadership was trying to "get ahead" of any flight to private schools that might follow a desegregation plan. "We don't want our schools to be used to undermine good faith efforts in the public sector," he said. "We anticipated it might be an issue, so we reissued the policy."
The archdiocesan policy, approved in the early 1970s when the Prince George's school system received its first court order to desegregate, states that Catholic elementary and secondary schools "will not be used to frustrate desegregation efforts of public schools, and in no case will become havens for students whose parents wish to avoid integrated public schools."
G. Patrick Canan, acting superintendent of archdiocesan schools, released a memo stating the policy last month to school principals and pastors in the county. "It is contrary to our Christian principles to accept students who wish to transfer from their own school because it is racially integrated," the memo said.
There are 28 archdiocesan schools in the county, which has 175 public schools.
The Most Rev. Thomas Lyons, regional bishop for Prince George's, said principals and pastors have recently received some calls from parents interested in transferring their children out of the public school system, but many fewer than 1973, when the county's first busing order was issued.
Carr said that parents seeking segregated settings will be disappointed with the Catholic schools, where one-third of the enrollment is composed of minority students.
The church has a role in the desegregation process, he said, because "a community polarized by desegregation efforts is a hurting community that needs very good pastoral care. We want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem."
Carr, who said the archdiocese led the area in desegregating its schools in 1950, urged Catholic leaders to act as a "constructive force" in the community dialogue on desegregation. "We can calm some fears. We can remind people there is a moral issue in terms of equal education."
At another meeting last night, Murphy and the board members heard concerns about the magnet plan from an audience of more than 100 parents.
Several representatives from the Ad Hoc Committee on Quality Education -- formed from the county rainbow coalition, organized last year to support Jesse Jackson's presidential campaign -- called for changes to the plan, including more compensatory funding for the predominantly black schools and less emphasis on programs for talented and gifted students.
The talented and gifted concept, the committee said in a prepared statement, "is elitist and would serve the educational needs of a very small segment of the student population . . . . "
Other parents expressed their support. "Busing obviously, after 13 years, is not the answer," said Rosemary Backer, mother of a third grader at Carrollton Elementary School. "If we're going to spend money, let's spend it on the children's education and not busing them from school to school. I think we should all give the plan a chance."