The president of the Prince George's County NAACP reached an agreement yesterday that could end virtually all busing of schoolchildren who live in integrated neighborhoods in the county.
The move by newly elected president William R. Martin is an abrupt shift from the group's six-year-old policy of opposing any changes in the county's court-ordered busing plan, and could lead to the first significant change in county school busing patterns since they were imposed in 1973.
The agreement reached by Martin and School Board Chairman Norman H. Saunders, still requires the approval of the full county school board and a majority of the members attending a meeting of the county NAACP.
"The busing of pupils from integrated neighborhoods to schools not nearest their homes for purposes of effectuating desegregation is deemed... to be impractical and counter-productive," the agreement says.
The plan, secretly negotiated since Martin took office as the county NAACP chairman in January, drew immediate criticism because it would permit some county schools to become virtually all black.
Sylvester J. Vaughns, former president of the county NAACP, and the man who brought the original suit that led to the court-ordered busing plan, said the Prince George's NAACP chapter would never approve the agreement. "Black children in Prince George's County cannot receive quality education (in) all-black schools," he said.
The agreement ran into trouble with the national chapter of the NAACP as well. Althea Simmons, acting director of the national chapter of the NAACP, said the Prince George's chapter had no authority to negotiate any desegregation plan with the county school system.
She said the national organization requires local chapters to submit a plan in writing to the legal and education department of the national office and receive approval before dealing with a school system. Any local chapter violating the national chapter's policy is subject to suspension, she said.
Nonetheless, Vaughns said, if the agreement is approved by all parties, he personally "probably would not sue the school system," to prevent schools from becoming all-black.
Bonnie F. Johns, the single black voting member of the school board, said she believes that children from integrated communities should be allowed to go to their neighborhood schools, but she said she has "real problems" if any predominantly black schools are created by this process.
Seven other members of the ninemember school board yesterday expressed approval of the agreement.
Under the original 1973 busing plan, children were bused from what were then white neighborhoods to predominantly black schools and from black neighborhoods to white schools. The goal was to make each school between 10 and 50 percent black.
Since then, the busing plan has remained the same, but many new black families have moved into the country. When residents changed from white to black, the black children went to the same school as the white children did before them. This has led to situations in which black children are bused from the integrated neighborhoods to predominantly black schools.
Since court-ordered busing began in Prince George's, it has been the county's single most divisive and emotional issue, permeating almost every local political campaign since that time and creating popular new politicians. In Prince George's County, as nationwide, the NAACP has been the principal busing advocate.
The document that now awaits school board and NAACP approval spells out procedures under which integrated communiites can petition to have their children attend the neighborhood school.
At the same time, it promises the residents of areas to which students would no longer be bused that their neighborhood schools will remain open for at least three years. They also are promised that all school programs will remain.
The agreement will enable parents in integrated communities -- where the elementary school population is no less than 30 percent and no more than 70 percent minority -- to participate in an attendance realignment task force. The school board does not know how many such neighborhoods exist, but believes the number to be significant.
The task force would include parents from the integrated communities, parents in the community to which the students are bused, members of the school board staff and representatives of the NAACP.
County NAACP president Martin said the members of the task force would have to come to a "consensus" before any decisions could be made.
The recommendations of the attendance realignment task forces require public hearings and approval of the school board before they could be implemented.
Critical to the agreement is the fact that reassignment of pupils following the recommendations of the task forces would not be considered "a resegregative act," school board members say.
The school system has not altered the busing plans of integrated communities up to this point because they have feared that the NAACP would perceive the move as an act deliberately designed to "resegregate" the schools.
This agreement would now enable the school system to alter its busing plan in integrated neighborhoods without fear of a court suit from the NAACP.
Most school board members said yesterday they supported the effort by Saunders to reach an agreement with the NAACP. However, some members criticized the fact that they were not consulted.
"I wish some of us had been consulted rather than having one individual go off and do this thing," said Chester E. Whiting (District 3). He added, however, that he had no objection to the document.
Saunders and Martin began their negotiations after Otis Ducker, who ran unsuccessfully for the school board, brought them together, they siad.