More than two-thirds of the Chevy Chase parents whose children would attend kindergarten this fall at Rosemary Hills Elementary School in Silver Spring as part of an integration plan say they intend to send their children to private schools instead.
Citizens for Stable Schools, an organization of 195 Chevy Chase parents, submitted sworn statements to the Maryland Board of Education this week indicating that 31 of 42 families have decided not to enroll their kindergarten-aged children in Rosemary Hills, where half the students are minority.
A number of parents in affluent Chevy Chase ordinarily send their children to private schools, but there has always been a strong contingent in the public schools as well. This year, for example, with the kindergarten housed at Chevy Chase Elementary, 37 children from the area were enrolled there. But according to a survey by the parents group, between six and 11 children will enroll when the kindgarten is moved to Rosemary Hills in September.
The parents' statements are part of an appeal to the state board to overturn a decision last month by the Montgomery County School Board. The county board decided to reinstitute a program that buses children from the predominantly white Chevy Chase and North Chevy Chase elementary school areas to Rosemary Hills for preschool through second grade. Children from Rosemary Hills would be bused to Chevy Chase or North Chevy Chase elementaries for grades three through six.
"I don't want to send my kid to a private school, but there has been ample evidence that the (integration) plan has been a dismal failure and people are very frightened of sending kids to a school that has a poor track record," said Judith Weisman, one of the parents who signed the statement delivered to the state board.
The action by the parents' group comes just as the county board has begun taking steps to bolster the educational programs at Rosemary Hills, Chevy Chase, and North Chevy Chase in an effort to encourage all students assigned to those schools to attend.
Rosemary Hills has been the focus of debate over the county's efforts toward racial integration, and was the centerpiece of the county's voluntary busing efforts, which began in 1976. When the school board voted in 1981 to undo the Rosemary Hills-Chevy Chase pairing, Rosemary Hills had already gained national attention as model of voluntary integration efforts and had contributed to Montgomery's reputation for being progressive on racial issues.
Members of the Rosemary Hills community, who won a major victory last year when a newly elected school board voted to reinstate the pairing with Chevy Chase, reacted angrily to the news that some Chevy Chase students would transfer to private schools.
"The Chevy Chase community has constantly used threats that they will not enroll their children at Rosemary Hills as the main argument against the plan," said Kenneth Kirk, president of the Rosemary Hills Parent-Teacher Association.
Roscoe R. Nix, president of the county NAACP and a former member of the school board, said some parents are threatening to send their children to private schools because they are afraid of minority children. He said: "I think it's incredible that they're afraid of black children. It certainly raises the suspicion that there are too many minority children over there Rosemary Hills for their comfort. If there were only 10 percent minority I doubt if we would see this problem."
Rosemary Hills' student population is 50 percent minority, compared to the 36.8 percent minority population at Chevy Chase.
Chevy Chase parents who opposed pairing the schools have said that racial factors are not involved in their decisions to leave the public schools. They say that Rosemary Hills has failed because its teachers and staff are not equipped to give attention to students with diverse educational and emotional needs.
"We are not against integrated schools, my son goes to an integrated school at Chevy Chase," said Weisman. "The fact is however that I am concerned that I have heard just too many grim tales about the school."
Kathy Wolf, president of the Chevy Chase PTA, said the decision by some parents to enroll their children in private schools is not a "threat."
"It's reality," said Wolf. "We've always said it would happen. Anyone who calls it a threat or a planned boycott is setting the stage to once again make Chevy Chase the whipping boy when the plan fails."
School planner George Fisher said yesterday that Rosemary Hills' racial balance would be severely affected if the 31 kindergarten students from Chevy Chase do not attend Rosemary Hills in the fall. He said the percentage of minority students could increase from a projected level of 45 percent to 60 percent. The county-wide average is 25.4 percent.
School board president Blair Ewing said he was "very sorry" to hear that some Chevy Chase parents had decided to send their children to private schools. Yesterday the board asked for additional county money to put special accelerated programs at the three paired schools.