Diversity Policy Overturned

Court Says Race Can't Bar Transfer

Jacob Eisenberg, 7, may get to transfer to a math and science magnet school in Silver Spring after all. But the impact of a federal appeals court ruling in Jacob's case is less clear for other children and parents in Montgomery County, and beyond.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond decided last week that the Maryland county was wrong to deny Jeffrey Eisenberg's request to transfer his son, Jacob, solely because he is white.

The ruling followed similar rulings elsewhere, leaving school officials across the country struggling to figure out how to keep schools from becoming racially isolated.

Most immediately, Montgomery officials have to decide whether to adjust their 20-year-old transfer policy or appeal the case to the Supreme Court.

"As I read it, it sounds like they have invalidated the policy," said Patricia Brannan, the school district's attorney. "I don't know what this means in terms of impact on other students. We're just going to have to figure that out."

Jacob's neighborhood school, Glen Haven Elementary, has been steadily losing white students, who now account for about one in four children enrolled there. His father wanted to send him to Rosemary Hills Elementary's magnet program because Jacob showed aptitude in those subjects.

But the county denied the request because of its "impact on diversity." In an effort to "racially balance" schools and ensure diversity, the county generally forbids students of a racial or ethnic group to transfer from a school in which that group's numbers are dropping.

The school board will meet with its attorneys next week to discuss what to do. In the meantime, even Jacob's dad concedes that he's somewhat troubled by the ruling--although he's also relieved.

A panel of the same federal appeals court ruled last month that the Arlington Traditional School, a magnet school in Arlington, cannot continue to use an admissions lottery that was weighted in favor of some nonwhite applicants. The Arlington School Board has asked the judges for a rehearing.

A Ban on Small Houses?

Charles County Weighs Minimum Size

In a new twist to an increasingly familiar problem, Charles County commissioners might ban new houses smaller than 2,000 feet.

The proposal, which faces public hearings, is their way of boosting sagging housing prices and preventing an influx of cheap housing. Many suburban Washington jurisdictions are struggling with growth and wondering how they can pay for new roads and schools.

"The base concern we have is the amount of development . . . and the quality of the development and the health of our neighborhoods," said Board of Commissioners President Murray D. Levy (D-At Large).

But Charles appears to be the first county in the area that wants to rule out new homes that are smaller than average, and critics say the proposal would hurt working-class families.

"I think it would be a sad thing if you say to anybody, 'If you don't make enough money or your money isn't big enough, that you can't live in the county,' " said Jazsma Speece, 47, who lives in a community that was built with help from a nonprofit group.

Across the Region

Wins for 'Skins; School Security

* Put this one in the "win" column: A plan to ease the traffic gridlock that bedeviled the Washington Redskins' first home game was a rousing success. Thousands of fans arrived early, a record number relied on Metro, and new rules at the Landover stadium kept parking paralysis at bay. And to top it off, a field goal with six seconds to go gave the 'Skins a 38-36 victory over the Carolina Panthers.

* They're not a cure-all, but they're a start. That was Montgomery County Council members' stance as they unanimously voted to spend $685,000 to put video security cameras in all 23 high schools. Council member Michael L. Subin (D-At Large) said the cameras will help prevent violence, sexual harassment, drug abuse, drug dealing and thefts.

* From now on, the fingerprinting of volunteers--including parents--in D.C. schools is going to be compulsory. After three school employees and one volunteer were convicted in the past year of child sexual abuse, Superintendent Arlene Ackerman ordered all volunteers to be screened for possible criminal records. Employees in the school system already roll their thumbs through the ink.

* Montgomery County says it's ready for the millennium. Three months before the fateful tick to Jan. 1, 2000, officials say all but three of the county's 317 computer systems are good to go. The years-long compliance effort, held up as a model on "60 Minutes," costs $47.2 million, or $56 per county resident. The District is spending $120 million--and its Y2K effort is mired in confusion. Fairfax County plans to spend $3.4 million.

* District police are looking among their own ranks, and among other workers in the police station, for the thief who stole cash from a safe--money that had been raised for the family of an officer who died of cancer. "This doesn't happen often," said Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey. In August, $12,000 vanished from a safe in another police district in the city. No one has been arrested in either incident.

* More planes soon could be flying in and out of Reagan National Airport. The Senate voted to add 24 flights daily, half the number that has been approved by a Senate panel. Even so, many Arlington residents who don't want any more noise say that's too many. Under the plan, 12 of the new flights could exceed National's 1,250-mile limit. The bill must be reconciled with a House measure that would add six flights daily.

* Greater Southeast Community Hospital needs a life-saving infusion, and fast. A bankruptcy judge has given the privately owned District hospital until tomorrow to find a partner that will spend millions of dollars to keep Southeast's largest employer open. If a suitable buyer isn't found, the city says it will liquidate the assets of the only major health provider east of the Anacostia River.

-- Erica Johnston

Laurel Teen Convicted in Immigrant's Death

Latino Advocates Protest Handling of Case by Pr. George's State's Attorney

A Laurel teenager was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in last year's fatal beating of a Salvadoran immigrant. Latino advocates accused Prince George's County State's Attorney Jack B. Johnson of not prosecuting Cochise Iraun "Cody" Queen, 18, as vigorously as possible, either because of "gross incompetence" or because of victim Gilberto Hernandez's ethnicity.

Johnson adamantly denied for nearly a year that there was evidence of a robbery. But at trial, two witnesses, including one of Hernandez's brothers who saw the attack, said it began as a robbery. In closing arguments, prosecutors said for the first time that Hernandez was in fact killed in a robbery. They asked the jury to convict Queen of felony murder.

A juror said after the verdict that he and other jurors did not believe there was enough evidence of robbery.

Afterward, one advocate for Latinos, apparently alluding to expectations that Johnson may run for county executive in 2002, speculated that he might not be prosecuting the defendants, who are black, more vigorously for fear of losing votes.

In a Wednesday television interview, Johnson said others were exploiting and trying to trade on the race issue.

Va. Law Faces Challenges

Commercial Material Harmful to Juveniles Banned From Internet

A new Virginia law seeks to ban from the Internet commercial material that could be considered harmful to juveniles. But is the law itself legal?

Civil rights advocates and 15 Internet businesses say the measure would unconstitutionally censor free speech, and they've filed a federal lawsuit against Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III (R) and Attorney General Mark L. Earley in an effort to stop it.

"The law is ineffective and harmful to business and the development of this medium," said Larry Ottinger, a lawyer for People for the American Way, one of the groups that filed the suit.

But Del. Robert G. Marshall (R-Prince William), who sponsored the bill, said the law will stand up because it targets a narrow audience--those who sell pornography to children. No one has been charged under the measure, which took effect July 1. The misdemeanor carries penalties of up to 12 months in jail and a fine of up to $2,500.

CAPTION: Relatives of Gilberto Hernandez, including brother Juan, left, sister Maria and brother Santos, appear at a news conference.

CAPTION: Gov. James S. Gilmore III and Attorney General Mark L. Earley face suit over law.