Dear Homeroom:

The Montgomery County Board of Education has decided to appeal to the Supreme Court an adverse decision by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in which the court declared a portion of MCPS's transfer policy unconstitutional.

The Fourth Circuit in Eisenberg v. Montgomery County Public Schools held that the Montgomery County Board of Education may not deny a student's request to transfer to a magnet school because of his race. The court prohibited that portion of the transfer policy considering the race of the applicant in granting or denying the transfer. The other parts of the transfer policy--stability, utilization, enrollment and personal hardship--were left undisturbed by the court, because these parts were not race-based. MCPS's objective for this policy was to achieve diversity.

I would urge parents and education advocates to read the Eisenberg case to determine for themselves how our Board of Education should proceed in this matter. It may be possible to achieve diversity through race-neutral alternatives. For those who have access to the Internet, the Eisenberg case can be printed from http://findlaw.com after clicking on "Laws: Cases & Codes," then "Court of Appeals Decisions--4th Circuit," followed by "October 1999."

Jane Rumbaugh

Gaithersburg

This whole transfer policy is a tough issue.

Just to briefly recap: The father of a white student at Glen Haven Elementary School asked that his son be able to attend Rosemary Hills Elementary because it has a math-science magnet program. That program was instituted back in the 1980s, when there was a danger that white parents would abandon the school, and involves resources beyond those found in most other elementary schools. The parent's request was denied because, essentially, the school system decided that Glen Haven needed white kids more than Rosemary Hills did. The parent filed suit and (I'm leaving out several legal steps) the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals just ruled that the county may not make any transfer decisions on the basis of race.

The school board just voted to appeal the case to the Supreme Court. If I understand the school board's argument correctly, it says its transfer policy is constitutional because all students--black and white--are subject to the same considerations in terms of whether their transfer would leave their old schools more segregated than if they remained. In other words, black students who go to Somerset Elementary, where only about 5 percent of the students are African American, are not allowed to transfer out because they would leave the school less integrated--whereas they would be able to transfer out of, say, Glen Haven. Similarly, white students are not supposed to be able to transfer out of Glen Haven, because they would leave that school less integrated, but could transfer out of Somerset.

The transfer policy is one of the main mechanisms the school system has devised for ensuring that Montgomery County doesn't have segregated schools, and school board members--worried that the loss of the transfer policy will mean that white parents will transfer out of integrated schools if permitted--have vowed to fight to keep it.

They may be right that the consequences of losing the transfer policy will be to lessen integration. However, no transfer policy in the world can keep white families from moving to the northern and western parts of the county in order to send their children to schools that are not particularly well integrated. And, in fact, that has happened.

Montgomery County's other integration policy--magnet programs--doesn't seem to be an answer, either. The county's magnet programs in Silver Spring bring white students from surrounding areas to schools where most of the students are African American and Latino. But those magnet programs often end up being segregated white and Asian classes in African American and Latino schools--hardly an integration success story.

So here's my attempt at cutting the Gordian knot.

If the goal is to have excellent, high-achieving students--of all races--who attend integrated schools, then why not reward those schools that are already integrated with additional academic resources? Montgomery County has a solid core of schools in the central corridor of the county that are among the best-integrated schools in the country. They are integrated racially, ethnically and economically, and they are integrated because of--not in spite of--housing patterns.

Why not make sure that all such integrated schools have all-day kindergarten, foreign language instruction in elementary school, quality after-school programs and pay bonuses to attract the best teachers in the county?

Such a policy would encourage families committed to building an integrated community for their children and entice more to do the same. And we would be spending our scarce resources educating kids, rather than paying expensive lawyers to defend a transfer policy that really hasn't achieved what it was intended to achieve.

By the way, I know a lot of people are snickering that the original Glen Haven parent, now that he has won the right to send his child to Rosemary Hills, isn't sure he wants to send him anymore. But I'm glad he found Glen Haven--one of those fully integrated schools I mentioned--to be a good place for his son and might leave him there. It is an indication of the strength of the attachment that families can develop to their schools and of how well integrated schools can and do work.

Grammatical Agreement

Dear Homeroom:

Speaking of lousy grammar, "One of the confusions that surrounds this issue. . ." (Nov. 4) is a perfect example of a grammatical error appearing frequently in the Post (forget about Montgomery schools!).

The antecedent of "that" is "confusions" and not "one"--confusions surround this issue, not confusions surrounds this issue.

Oh, well. Maybe if you had diagramed the sentence before going to print, you would have got it right?

John Del Vecchio

Rockville

You're absolutely right about that sentence. The problem with writing a column about grammar is knowing with an almost mathematical certainty that grammatical errors will creep in. I decided to take the chance, and you caught me. But two can play that game--the present perfect of "to get" is "have gotten," not "have got."

Dear Homeroom:

After reading your letters about the teaching of grammar, I must ask people to remember the "good old days" of grammar drill and sentence diagraming. I graduated from high school almost 30 years ago. From fifth grade on, we diagramed sentences and were drilled on the same grammar skills that we had been drilled on the year before.

Although I learned to diagram the most complex sentence, I was not taught how to apply the grammar. Therefore, I do not write easily or well. My children, who, as far as I know, have never diagramed a sentence, write better than I do. They have learned to use correct grammar (and spelling) through the process of learning to write paragraphs, papers, etc. As life skills go, diagraming sentences is about as entertaining as cleaning toilets and much less useful.

Emily Correll

Rockville

Hum Along

Dear Homeroom:

Montgomery County Public Schools' immersion approach to teaching grammar reminds me of the Music Man who convinces the parents of River City, Iowa, that their children will learn to play band instruments by humming the Minuet in G.

All the parents I know want their children to receive explicit grammar instruction, including the parts of speech and sentence diagraming. How can the administrators of MCPS ignore the beliefs and desires of parents regarding the education of our own children? The burden should be on MCPS to prove that its approach is more effective than explicit grammar instruction. If MCPS cannot produce convincing evidence, I think that the system should revise its approach in response to strong parental preference.

Julie Lees

Silver Spring

Homeroom is a forum for you. Send questions, opinions and issues you would like to see discussed to Homeroom, The Washington Post, 51 Monroe St., Suite 500, Rockville, Md. 20850. The fax number is 301-279-5665. Or you can e-mail homeroom@washpost.com.