More than 1,500 Prince George's County public school students who live on and around Andrews Air Force Base will be transferred to schools closer to their homes this fall, despite complaints that the moves will result in racially and economically segregated schools.
The county Board of Education approved the sweeping school boundary changes Thursday, at the urging of parents from the base. School officials say the plan will affect students at 15 schools in the southern portion of the county and will speed the process of ending 26 years of busing to achieve racial integration.
The county plans to build a new elementary school near the base in 2001 to accommodate population growth and school boundary changes. School officials acknowledged that the shift of students may decrease the diversity of schools they are leaving. Those schools would receive extra money and resources, and some may get magnet programs to help encourage voluntary diversity, said Bill Greene, who oversees school boundary changes.
But representatives of the Prince George's chapter of the NAACP say the board should not approve such boundary changes until it builds new schools in predominantly poor and black neighborhoods to help ensure equity. The school board agreed to build 13 new schools in a settlement reached last year to end 26 years of court-ordered busing.
"This [boundary change] initiative has come from parents and residents who want to meet their own self-interest rather than the needs of the entire population," said Edythe Hall, president of the county's NAACP branch. "If that moves forward, it will slow down construction of new schools or divert attention from the problems at other schools."
The boundary change -- which initially was scheduled for 2005 under the desegregation settlement -- was pushed up to this fall at the urging of base officials, who said they did not want to wait to move the more than 1,000 students who live on the base to schools closer to home. School officials agreed to work with military personnel to expedite the plan after funding for a new elementary school was moved from 2005 to 2001.
The military families said that returning their children to nearby schools is important to them because when a parent is sent off to active duty, neighbors often look after their children. Keeping the children at schools as close to home as possible is imperative to making such arrangements work, they said.
School board member Catherine A. Smith (Cheverly) said the military's argument made sense.
"You give people a license to go ahead and figure out what works within their communities, and if it's a good plan, you can't turn around and say, `We're not going to honor your plan,' " Smith said.
Ruby Quinones, who lives with her husband on the base, said she removed her children from the public schools shortly after moving to the area from California in 1997, in part because they were bused so far from home. She now teaches them at home.
"I'd send them back in a heartbeat if this was approved," she said. "It's unacceptable for my child to be bused for 25 miles or longer."
Schools affected by the plan are: Edgar Allan Poe, Francis T. Evans, James Ryder Randall, John Eager Howard, Lyndon Hill, Princeton, Skyline, Thomas Claggett and John H. Bayne elementaries; Andrew Jackson, Stephen Decatur, Thurgood Marshall and Walker Mill middle schools; and Crossland and Surrattsville high schools.