A court-appointed panel has concluded that it is possible to desegregate the Prince George's County school system completely by pairing some schools and closing or opening others.
The panel's report, submitted yesterday to U.S. District Court Judge Frank A. Kaufman, disputes school officials' arguments that fully desegregating all county schools would lead to "white flight."
"There is evidence that through careful planning . . . not always necessarily busing students, progress toward desegregation can yet occur in the county," said Robert L. Green, president of the University of the District of Columbia and chairman of the panel.
The panel presented a far-reaching set of alternatives that, if adopted, would dramatically alter the county's current desegregation plan. Slightly more students would be bused temporarily under the recommendations, panel members said, but eventually fewer students would be bused farther. Under the current plan, 66 percent, or 69,000 county students are bused to school, according to school officials.
The school board also must present its recommendations to Kaufman, who will decide how to desegregate the Washington area's second largest school district. Prince George's school officials said they had not yet read the report and declined to comment on it.
The report said school segregation in the county has been steadily increasing since 1973, and that if present trends continue, elementary schools will be as segregated in 20 years as they were when busing was ordered in 1973.
Central to the panel's findings is the argument that students living in racially integrated neighborhoods, many of which border the Beltway, should not be bused, as they are under the county's current system.
" . . . Students living in racially integrated neighborhoods should attend racially integrated neighborhood schools," the report said. The panel recommended busing patterns that "leapfrog" over these integrated neighborhoods, transporting students from the black segregated areas inside the Beltway to the white segregated areas in the north and south ends of the county and in Bowie, and vice versa. Black students would be bused slightly more than white students.
While it was not clear how many schools the panel's plan would affect, panel members said their recommendations would have wider impact than a school board plan to close 22 schools. That proposal, recommended to Kaufmann last spring, would have sent more than 8,000 students to 50 different schools.
A lawyer for the NAACP, which brought the desegregation suit, said yesterday he agreed with the panel's findings.
"We're pleased that the report shows there are a number of steps that can be taken to make it possible for more children in Prince George's County to have a desegregated education," said lawyer Joseph M. Hassett.
The report represents months of work by the panel and caps more than a decade of legal activity in the county's desegregation lawsuit.
The panel, while careful not to assign malicious intent to school officials in drawing up the current desegregation plan, criticized their failure to monitor demographic changes. Because the county did not adjust its desegregation plans to changing populations, segregation has actually increased, the report said.
For example, the report said that busing had never been used in some neighborhoods of the county even after those neighborhoods had become predominantly black.
The recommendations were made in the form of a variety of alternatives, from which Kaufman or school officials could choose. In calling for the closing of a school, for example, the panel also suggested the possibility of pairing that school with another.
The system of pairing would match a school having predominantly black enrollment with one of predominantly white enrollment. Each school would be designated for students in certain grades from both schools. This would prevent students from one neighborhood being bused during all their elementary years.
Also recommended is that some schools along the Beltway be reopened. The report argues that these schools, which could have drawn black enrollment from inside the Beltway and white enrollment from outside the Beltway, should not have been closed when enrollment declined over the past decades.
If changing demographic patterns had been monitored and the busing plan adjusted, the experts concluded, neighborhoods in the county might have been more integrated today than they are. The "obsolete" busing patterns may have caused white flight, the report said, by assigning whites to schools with a higher percentage of black students than other schools in the district.