A clamorous crowd of almost 300 parents, students and teachers packed the Prince George's County Board of Education meeting last night to protest the suspension of the Bowie High School yearbook adviser for failing to catch coded racial slurs and obscene remarks in the 1990 yearbook.

The normally sedate school board chamber was transformed, with speakers having to climb over television cameras and spectators seated in the aisles or having to wade through protesters at the rear who waved signs and black balloons.

At the center of the protest stood Donald Watson, the Bowie English teacher and yearbook adviser, whose suspension without pay sparked a community uproar that drew residents, teachers and students from all over the county.

Watson was placed on an unpaid suspension May 24 after school officials discovered that two senior portraits in the yearbook had captions with obscene passages that were spelled backward or irregularly spaced.

One picture was accompanied by a statement that used a racial epithet spelled backward. Another student's caption began with an expletive and a third had a sexually explicit term to decribe his female peers. All three students were initially expelled, although two appealed the decision and received their diplomas.

The yearbook controversy may have taken a turn this week when school officials discovered that previous Bowie yearbooks included questionable captions and photos.

One photo in the 1989 yearbook, for which Watson was also adviser, had the words, "erotic freedom" printed over the crotch of a student wearing silky lingere.

The lingerie photo appeared in a special yearbook section in which seniors can submit full-page photo collages for a $250 fee. The section is a dizzying display of personal photographs of all shapes and sizes that are often accompanied by phrases that appear to have been clipped from magazines and newspapers.

Another page shows a photo of a male student wearing see-through women's lingerie. And captions under senior portraits included a derogatory statement about homosexuals and slang references to female anatomy.

Bowie yearbooks dating back to 1985 also showed several photos of students drinking from beer bottles and cans.

"There is a lot more in that yearbook that shows the total lack of responsibility on the part of the person in charge of the yearbook," said Superintendent John A. Murphy, who initiated the procedure to fire Watson, a 22-year teaching veteran who has been Bowie's yearbook adviser for 3 1/2 years.

"When you read both {the 1989 and 1990} books, it is quite obvious that the book was not monitored or the person monitoring the book has a sense of values that are totally out of line with the standards we need to uphold in this school system," Murphy said.

Watson said he was adhering to a set of standards that were established long before he assumed the adviser's position. "The yearbook I published was no different than the ones published before I took over," Watson said to a reporter. The school board "should work up some administrative procedures governing how the yearbook should be published if they are going to hold teachers accountable," he said. Watson added that he did not have adequate support staff to thoroughly proofread the yearbook.

Watson's dismissal hearing has been scheduled for Aug. 15.

Nearly all of the 24 speakers at the board's meeting last night said Watson should not he held responsible for catching coded remarks.

In a telephone interview yesterday, Charles Savedge, past president of the Columbia Scholastic Press Association and author of several guidebooks on yearbook publishing, said the Bowie incident mirrors a national trend. "Yearbooks are getting racier," said Savedge, who rattled off a list of incidents in which families sued school districts after offensive remarks were published about their children. "It's tragic that these kinds of things are happening. The lines are always changing on what is and what is not offensive. But it is still up to the yearbook adviser to make sure that students do not cross that line."

The initial wave of community anger over the yearbook was quickly overshadowed by the way Murphy abruptly suspended Watson.

The county chapter of the NAACP, which initially denounced the publication of the slurs, recently criticized Murphy for recommending Watson's dismissal without hearing his case. But a smaller faction of parents and school administrators say the larger issue of maintaining a standard for yearbooks and other school publications has been clouded by the controversy over Watson's proposed dismissal.

"What disturbs me and what seems to have gotten lost in the fury over the incident, is the bigotry, stereotyping and insensitivity expressed on several pages" of the 1990 yearbook, said Rabbi Michael L. Kramer.

Others at the meeting suggested that Murphy overreacted to the racial slurs following a period when he fell under intense criticism from county black residents during an ill-fated attempt to extend his contract.