A 1980 report by consultants for the federal Office for Civil Rights said Prince George's County public schools were among the worst in the nation in suspending a disproportionate number of black students and assigning an undue number of blacks to certain special education classrooms.
The report figures prominently in court papers filed yesterday by the NAACP seeking a reopening of the suit that led to court-ordered busing for desegregation in the county nine years ago.
Drawn from data routinely supplied by the school system to the Office for Civil Rights for the school year 1978-1979, the report showed that while blacks at that time comprised 44 percent of the school enrollment, they received 59 percent of the suspensions that year. Only 10 school systems in the country had a higher proportion of black suspensions.
The report also found that 67 percent of the students assigned to classes for the educable mentally retarded were black, as were 61 percent of those assigned to Specific Learning Disability classes, the largest category of special education classes. Only 13 school systems in the country assigned a higher percentage of blacks to such programs.
School officials say they were aware of the raw data they supplied to the Office for Civil Rights. But, according to Assistant Superintendent Edward Felegy, the county administrators were unaware of the report based on that raw data until a copy was sent to school board attorney Paul Nussbaum.
Felegy refused to comment directly on the details of the lengthy legal documents filed in federal court. He insisted that "there is no steering of racial minorities into special education classes."
Regarding the figures on suspensions, school board attorney Nussbaum said that in almost every disciplinary action resulting in suspension, a black administrator could have been involved with the decision. School spokesman Brian J. Porter called the figures "fictitious" and "suspect" and characterized the NAACP charges as "a numbers game."
But Thomas I. Atkins, general counsel for the NAACP, argued that the numbers mean that black students are being harmed. "When we see numbers like those in Prince George's, what it usually means is that there is a dual standard of student discipline. Black students are being disciplined for things that would be disregarded or given less discipline for whites," Atkins said.
The report was intended to assist the Office for Civil Rights in selecting school districts to examine for compliance with federal civil rights guidelines. No action will be taken by the federal government based on the report, which covers a number of areas, including minority segregation among schools, individual classrooms and pupils spending full time in special education classes.
The Los Angeles unified school system was ranked the worst in the country in both minority suspensions and assignments to special education classes. No other area school systems were found among the worst 20 listings in any report category.