GOV. AND MRS. Charles Robb, like many other affluent American parents, could have sent their daughters to the best private schools in the city of Richmond. They have chosen not to do so, but rather, in a decision that is also a vote of confidence in the public school system, have enrolled their three girls, Lucinda, Catherine and Jennifer, in three different public schools -- high, middle and elementary -- within two miles of the governor's mansion on Capitol Square. Good decision. End of story, right? No. Critics of the governor are now complaining that, if he were really sincere, the children would be going to three other -- but similar -- public schools to which other children in the Capitol Square attendance zone have been assigned.

The governor's mansion, because it is located on state property, is not technically part of the city of Richmond. Children living in the mansion, then, are not actually living in any school attendance zone and are not assigned to any particular public school. In fact, says a spokesman for the governor, the Robb children could have enrolled in any public school in the city of Richmond, or in Henrico or Chesterfield counties.

Twelve years ago, in a dramatic act of courage and leadership at a time of resistance to desegregation in Virginia, Gov. Linwood Holton enrolled his children in Richmond public schools. The Holton children went to the schools to which they would have been assigned if the mansion had been included in the local attendance zone. Those schools were, at the time, 71 percent black. For reasons of their own -- which include the fact that the three schools are all within half a mile of each other -- the Robbs have chosen schools that are a very short distance from those in the attendance zone. All the schools in question are inner-city public schools that are completely integrated. All have black enrollments of more than 83 percent. The fact that the Robbs have chosen these schools, as opposed to the attendance-zone schools, seems less important than the fact that they have chosen predominantly black public schools over predominantly white suburban schools or private schools. To have done so is not as dramatic or controversial as it was in 1970, but it is clearly the right choice for a public official who wants to demonstrate leadership and concern for an important public institution. The Robbs, to their credit, have done exactly that.