Several South Lakes High School parents said yesterday the appointment of a committee to improve race relations should cool the furor caused by black allegations of racism in the school, but some questioned the Fairfax County school system's handling of the allegations.
School Superintendent Robert R. Spillane released a report by the school system's human relations office Tuesday that concluded there were some troubling incidents at the Reston school, but no pervasive pattern of discrimination.
The school system investigation was in response to a petition sent last November to Spillane by three dozen black parents complaining that black students were not encouraged academically and were disciplined more harshly than whites. The petition also said there were no black administrators and too few black teachers at the school.
The petition split the school of 2,200, which has 300 black students, and surprised white residents of Reston, many of whom said they moved to the area because they wanted to live in a racially mixed community.
Spillane told nearly 100 parents who attended a meeting at the school Tuesday night that he would agree to a demand by the black parents for a school committee to hear any further complaints of racism, but that any problems would have to be solved through the school's administration, not his office.
Spillane, who left the meeting after an hour, said later, "The issue is one of communication. It's obvious the people at the school have never heard these charges before." Black parents who attended the meeting, however, said they had complained to South Lakes school officials and went to Spillane only after complaints brought no results.
Asked whether the school system's report vindicated the school, Spillane replied, "There's always a problem . . . but I don't think it's a major one."
Parents said after the meeting that they thought some gains had been made, but some questioned why it took the school system four months to respond to the allegations, and why the report relied so heavily on a survey that was not a scientifically random sample.
"We seem to be where we should have been four months ago," said Janet Howell, president of the Reston Community Association.
"This should have been dealt with in December," said Darlene Tolbert Palmer, an organizer of the black parent group that filed the petition. But she added, "The bottom line is that these issues are dealt with. Our overall bottom line was getting those allegations heard. Since that's been done, that's good."
Mary Downing, a white parent and PTA board member who attended the meeting, said of the committee, "I certainly hope it's on the right track . . . . It really has been disruptive -- for students, faculty, everybody."
Two School Board members who attended the session, Reston district representative Kohann Whitney and Frank Francois, the only black on the School Board, said the issue is on its way to being resolved.
Howell, Palmer and several black parents criticized the school system for using a parent, student and faculty survey as the basis for many of the report's conclusions. The survey asked general questions about attitudes toward the school, which Howell said was "irrelevant" to the issue of whether particular students face discrimination.