The Montgomery County School Board voted last night to close the Rosemary Hills elementary school in Silver Spring, a longstanding symbol of the county's efforts to improve racial integration in education.
The board's action, overriding a recommendation of the school superintendent, will break up the pairing of Rosemary Hills, located in a predomininantly minority area, and Chevy Chase Elementary in an affluent white neighborhood. The pairing, in which children from both communities attend kindergarten through third grade at Rosemary Hills and grades three through six at Chevy Chase, was established five years ago by a previous board to enhance racial balance. It will end at the close of this school year.
The board's five-member majority contends that the closing will actually improve such balance in a larger area and will promote kindergarten-through-sixth-grade elementary schools as a standard for the county.
But the action was promptly attacked as racially motivated by the two board members who voted against it. Blair Ewing, one of the two dissenters, declared: "Frankly, this board doesn't give a damn about minorities."
The proposal by the present conservative school board majority to close Rosemary Hills has been a focal point of increasingly vituperative debate in recent months, with some minority groups and white liberals seeing the action as the latest in a series of steps designed to do away with school integration.
For some, Rosemary Hills is a historic symbol of racial mixing. Founded by a Quaker developer who sought to promote integrated housing patterns, the community changed in the late 1960s and early '70s, first with the arrival of Hispanic refugees and then with more blacks. Some whites moved out and the Rosemary Hills School became the first in the county that was disproportionately minority. The school board addressed the problem, creating the county's first busing program with integration as its goal in 1976.
Board member Joseph R. Barse, who proposed the Rosemary Hills closing, said the move actually would improve racial balance overall in the Bethesda-Chevy Chase elementary schools and would save more money than Superintendent Edward Andrews' plan to keep the school alive.
Board president Carol F. Wallace supported Barse's plan and argued that Rosemary Hills had to close to ensure "stabilization" in the cluster. She said she "doesn't like the idea of breaking up that pairing," but added that she felt it necessary because the addition of white students from other areas has failed to keep the racial balance even at Rosemary Hills.
Board member Marian L. Greenblatt voted to close Rosemary Hills and said the school pairing was simply not working. She said it was "a myth" that black students prospered in the Rosemary Hills pairing, and she cited low test scores of black students in the school as evidence.
Ewing, who voted against the closing, said the action was "another piece of evidence" that the board was "promoting resegregation."
His view was disputed by Barth, who said Ewing was reading too much into the action and "the result would be exactly the reverse of charges that we are fostering segregation."
Elizabeth Spencer, the board vice-president, joined Ewing in opposing the majority and made an emotional appeal to preserve the pairing. She was a member of the board that voted in 1975 to impose the plan the following year and recalled a meeting six years ago at which Roscoe Nix, County NAACP head and then also a board member, praised the board for courage to confront racial problems and commitment to help end segregation in the county. "We should avoid one-way busing and we should avoid segregation," she declared. Spencer's remarks prompted a standing ovation from many of the hundreds of people in the board's Wheaton meeting room.
Superintendent Andrews, who called Rosemary Hills "an important component of the school closing plan," proposed keeping the pairing but to close two schools, Rollingwood and Lynbrook, which have the smallest enrollments and are most in need of repair. The board accepted his recommendation for Lynbrook.
Under Andrews' plan, minority enrollment at Rosemary Hills, now at 58 percent, would have been reduced by 11 percent. The minority composition of Chevy Chase Elementary would have increased by 4 percent to 44 percent.
Chevy Chase Elementary will revert to a kindergarten-through-sixth-grade structure, a move that some parents in the area strongly favor for various reasons. Some Chevy Chase parents lobbied the board to abolish the busing program that sent their children to a school they say has discipline and other problems because some lower-income students attend it.