School board is unsure Community-based schools questioned

December 17, 1992|By Monica Norton | Monica Norton,Anne Arundel County Board of EducationStaff Writer

Anne Arundel County Board of Education President Vincent O. Leggett is far from sold on the idea of community-based schools.

"I keep hearing that if parents have a sick child in school, then neighborhood schools would make it easier for parents to get to the school," Mr. Leggett said of a system that would send Annapolis-area children to the nearest school and abandon the idea of achieving racial balance through artificially drawn attendance boundaries.

"Well, that might happen twice a year," he said. "That's not an overwhelming reason for neighborhood schools. If segregated schools are going to be isolated racially and socio-economically . . . my basic instinct is not to support this."

He isn't the only board member to express reluctance in abandoning a philosophy that traces its origins back to the Supreme Court's landmark Brown vs. Board of Education ruling in 1954 -- a ruling that struck down the notion that schools for black and white children could be "separate but equal."

"I think this began as an issue of space utilization and equity, but I'm not thoroughly persuaded it's the way to go," said Dorothy Chaney, the board's senior member. "I'm not convinced; I'm not sure what's best for minority or disadvantaged students.

"The staff keeps telling me that if we do this we're going to see more parent involvement. We're talking about moving 865 students. Does that mean the parents of all 865 students will become more involved? I don't have the answer to that."

Besides the practical advantage of ensuring children attend the school nearest their home, proponents of the community-based system say it would increase parental involvement in the schools and foster a sense of neighborhood pride. Opponents fear it could lead to resegregation.

"I believe there are some very sincere people behind this movement, who want this because it is convenient," said Annapolis alderman and long-time civil rights advocate Carl Snowden. "But I also believe that there is an element who are doing this because they don't want their kids going to school with predominantly African-American students."

The Brown decision led to court-ordered integration of schools. But the Supreme Court ruled in March that federal courts have no duty to prevent the resegregation of schools brought about by population shifts or changes in housing patterns.

"Now there's no public policy that mandates there be racially balanced schools, so there's now an element that feels safe to advocate community schools," Mr. Snowden said.

"Schools were under a court mandate to better balance schools racially," said Mr. Leggett, who once headed the school system's planning office. "Since there has been a trend in the [Supreme Court] to relax court-ordered busing, I believe the trend has hit our county. And if there's not a large hue and cry from black parents, then the system will have no obligation to do anything differently."

Mr. Snowden said: "There's not a consensus in the [black] community to which would be best. The reality is, regardless of what happens, it will take active monitoring to ensure equity. And I'm not sure it's going to happen. We haven't had [equity] so far."

Rhonda Pindell Charles, the parent of two students at Parole Elementary School, said she favors the "concept" of neighborhood schools, but only if the resources are available to ensure equity.

"I think there needs to be some innovative ideas as far as the school system goes," Mrs. Charles said. "I think the first thing that should be done is to improve the recruitment of minority teachers."

The existing system, she said, has students in the same communities, often neighbors, attending different schools. "That's not a cohesive neighborhood. There's no communication between parents. They can't work together. It just doesn't make much sense," she said.

School board members Thomas Twombly and Joseph Foster said they are still considering their stances. Mr. Twombly said the redistricting of any area always makes parents and community residents "nervous," while Mr. Foster said his major concern is to make sure students are not "negatively impacted ** one way or the other."

Maureen Carr-York, who also has yet to make up her mind, said she believes it may be possible for neighborhood schools to work in the county. Where she attended school in New York state, she said, severe inequities -- based solely on the tax base -- existed among school districts.

Anne Arundel, she said, has been vigilant in ensuring that those same type of inequities don't occur.

"We do not have the inequities of rundown schools in less affluent neighborhoods. The goal is in keeping the community together, whatever that community may be," she added. "It is possible neighborhood schools could offset whatever benefits could be achieved by sending kids away from the community."

Board members Michael Pace and Jo Ann Tollenger could not be reached for comment.

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