School officials in Maryland and Virginia expressed dismay yesterday at legislation passed by the Senate that would sharply limit court-ordered busing, saying it could cause schools in their states to resegregate.
In the Washington suburbs, the proposal could most immediately affect Prince George's County, the only area school system currently operating under a court-ordered busing plan. The Senate measure would prohibit federal judges from ordering busing of students more than five miles or l5 minutes from their homes and would authorize the Justice Department to go into court to overturn existing programs after receiving written complaints from parents.
"This is probably a threat to the court-ordered busing plan," said A. James (Al) Golato, a member of the Prince George's County Board of Education. School officials say that about 47,000 of the county's 116,000 students are currently being bused. Officials said they do not know how many of those students are riding buses as part of a racial balance plan.
"This is very distressing," said Claire Bigelow, president of the Prince George's County American Civil Liberties Union chapter, the group that filed a successful desegregation suit in federal court a decade ago.
Reaction from officials of several Virginia school systems was similar.
"I don't know how you undo an egg that's been scrambled," said James Tyler, deputy superintendent for the Richmond public schools, which have been under a court order to desegregate since 1971. "This just floors me."
Tyler said about 19,000 students--more than half of Richmond's public school enrollment--are bused. Of those, about half ride buses farther than five miles.
In Norfolk, the state's largest city, school Superintendent Albert Ayars predicted that if the amendment passes it "would resegregate many schools in Norfolk."
"We feel great benefits have come from our plan," Ayars said. In 1971 Norfolk was ordered by a federal court to bus students to achieve racial balance. That order was lifted in 1975 but Ayars said Norfolk has continued to comply with the plan. "We really looked upon all this as being settled," said Ayars.
Ayars said that about 20,000 students--about half of Norfolk's enrollment--are bused.
Jack Gravely, executive secretary of the Virginia NAACP, echoed those sentiments. "This is just another clear indication of how the Reagan administration feels about civil rights," said Gravely asserting that the proposal was designed to "frighten and intimidate" federal judges.