A federal judge in Baltimore has ruled that vestiges of segregation remain in the Prince George's County school system, despite a 1973 court-ordered busing plan, and that specific acts by the school board have caused some amount of resegregation since the court relinquished control over the school system in 1975.
At the same time, however, U.S. District Court Judge Frank A. Kaufman found that the schools, contrary to charges brought by the county NAACP, have not intentionally discriminated against black students. Blacks have not been placed disproportionately in special education classes, nor unfairly disciplined, he ruled, nor have proportionately fewer been put in classes for the talented.
Kaufman also found no discrimination in the hiring and placement of black teachers in the school system.
Kaufman further suggested that the maximum percentage of black students any school should have might be raised from 50 percent to 80 percent, to reflect the county's growing black population at large.
The 230-page ruling issued late Monday, which school officials had been awaiting for almost a year, did not order any immediate action by the school board to achieve full desegregation.
Remedies for the "vestiges of pre-1973 segregation" as well as for specific violations of any outstanding court orders, will be decided in separate hearings to be scheduled this summer.
However, Kaufman listed seven specific elements of relief that he believes should be ordered, including the court's resumption of jurisdiction over the school system in matters of desegregation.
The school system should still be held to guidelines that schools should be no less than 10 percent and no more than 80 percent black, Kaufman said--guidelines some schools now violate.
Kaufman found that the system had violated court orders when it unilaterally reduced busing in 1980. That change was responsible for some of the resegregation of the Prince George's schools, he said. But the action should not necessarily be reversed, he added, "unless there are current affirmative reasons for so doing.
"Those changes while incrementally unsound, have become embodied in the system and their reversal may undesirably affect stability in the assignment of students to schools," Kaufman said.
Representatives of both the school system and the NAACP, which asked Kaufman to reopen the original 1972 desegregation case, claimed Kaufman's decision as a victory.
"I'm as excited as I can be," said John Rosser, the second vice president for the county NAACP. " The decision bears out that there is a problem that we need to address--now we can get to the specific of the problem."
School board lawyer Paul Nussbaum said he was "gratified" that the judge found "no evidence of any intentional discrimination," as alleged. Nussbaum added, however, that "we are very disappointed to see that the judge feels we are not a unitary school system." Unitary refers to a fully desegregated school system.
School spokesman Brian J. Porter said officials were especially elated they had been exonerated of "the most controversial" allegations.
Kaufman first found Prince George's guilty of maintaining illegally segregated schools in 1972, in a suit called Vaughns vs. Board of Education of Prince George's County. At that time, the school system was 23 percent black, but the enrollment in 126 of then 216 schools was better than 90 percent black or white, according to school figures.
Kaufman's July 1972 order placed some 16,000 mostly black students on buses in January 1973. Under the guidelines of his desegregation plan, hammered out between the judge, Nussbaum, lawyers for the county ACLU and school officials, school populations were to become and stay within 10-50 percent black.
One month later, all but 17 of the 220 schools were within Kaufman's guidelines, despite community turmoil, school fights and threats of violence that greeted busing. But by September 1973, when the percentage of black students in the schools had climbed to 28 percent, the number of schools outside of the racial guidelines had grown to 32. The number of these so-called "racially identifiable" schools, even adjusting for growth in the black school population, has increased ever since.
According to both parties, the re-opening of the suit became inevitable after talks between NAACP lawyers and the school board broke down during the summer of 1981. At that time NAACP officials said they were trying to negotiate a solution to what they felt were segregated conditions in the schools based on a year-long study of school statistics and other data. The results of that study became the basis of the NAACP court pleadings.
In its request to reopen the suit the county NAACP, a relatively quiet branch which only recently opened its first full-time office, pointed out that by 1980 there were almost as many racially imbalanced schools as in 1972. In addition, they used school system statistics to show that, while blacks made up 44 percent of the school population in 1979, they received 59 percent of disciplinary suspensions that year, one of the poorest records in the nation according to a report prepared for the U.S. Office of Civil Rights.
That same year, the statistics showed, blacks comprised 60.6 percent of students assigned to special education classes but only 12.7 percent of students in special classes for talented and gifted students.
In August 1981 the school board roundly rejected a consent decree proposed by the NAACP lawyers that would have required the board to bring the proportion of black students within regular classrooms in line with the overall proportion of blacks at that particular school within one month. Also, the black composition of all schools would have had to be within 20 percentage points of the total black enrollment in the county by 1985 under the proposal.
School lawyer Nussbaum felt that such an agreement would amount to an admission of guilt and would not have kept the school board out of court.
When the second suit was filed in September 1981, school superintendent Edward J. Feeney quickly branded it "political" and "based on numbers, not people and educational standards."
Feeney said the suit was motivated by the desire of the national NAACP, working at the behest of the local branch, to combat the conservative anti-busing philosophy of the Reagan administration.
Nussbaum's first legal response was to plead that the county NAACP did not represent the views of the majority of county blacks. The charge, echoed privately by many knowledgable blacks disaffected with the local NAACP leadership, has haunted the proceedings ever since.