Benjamin L. Hooks, executive director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, yesterday called the school desegregation decision a "striking blow to the NAACP's historic effort to secure equal opportunity to quality education for minority children."
In a statement released at the NAACP's Baltimore headquarters, Dr. Hooks predicted the decision would prompt school districts to go back into court to end desegregation orders. He said it would "surely encourage recalcitrant school districts to drag their feet in achieving meaningful desegregation."
However, he said the decision still obliges courts to "retain jurisdiction over desegregation orders until it is clear that state-imposed educational inequities have been completely eliminated root and branch."
Prince George's County is the only jurisdiction in Maryland under a school desegregation order, said Woodrow B. Grant Jr., chief of the equal opportunity office at the Maryland Department of Education.
Prince George's County Executive Parris N. Glendening said that as a result of the Supreme Court decision, "I would like to move to eliminate busing as soon as possible.
"My understanding of the case is that it runs parallel to the case in Prince George's County," Mr. Glendening said.
Marcy C. Canavan, vice chairman of the Prince George's County Board of Education, said the high court's ruling could have a direct effect on the county's schools.
Previously, a school system had to be in compliance with all parts of a federal desegregation order before the order could be lifted, she said.
"This case . . . says you can be incrementally in compliance," Ms. Canavan said. That could mean the lifting of some federal oversight in Prince George's case, she said.
Prince George's County has been under a federal desegregation order since 1972, when the county was taken to court by the Prince George's County branch of the NAACP for maintaining a segregated school system, according to Ms. Canavan.
That lawsuit resulted in mandatory busing of students within the county, which continues today, she said. The county buses 11,000 students, nearly all of them black, for purposes of desegregation. Prince George's total student population is about In 1971, she noted, the school system was 22 percent black and 76 percent white. The system now is 65 percent black and 27 percent white.
The shift in population prompted the NAACP to reopen the case in 1983, she said. The group accused the school system of being out of compliance with the court order in four areas: student assignments, teacher assignments, programs for gifted and talented children, and special education.
According to Ms. Canavan, the court found that the racial mix of students in Prince George's County schools violated federal law. It ordered the county to shift students until it complies with that law.
At the same time, the federal court found no violations in the three other areas, she said.
But since there was no such thing as partial compliance with a desegregation order, the school system remained under federal court supervision in all of those areas, Ms. Canavan said. For example, she said, the school system has had to reassign teachers by race in some cases, even though its staff makeup is in full compliance with the federal court order.
The new ruling, she said, could let Prince George's schools get out from under federal supervision in all areas but student assignments.