School's reopening in doubt

May 29, 1994|By Carol L. Bowers | Carol L. Bowers,Sun Staff Writer

The Anne Arundel County school board's promise to reopen Adams Park Elementary School by 1997 appears to be unraveling, partly from logistical problems and lack of money, and partly because it may violate federal desegregation guidelines.

By reopening Adams Park, school officials would create a predominantly black school at the request of the parents of students who would attend it, said Thomas Rhoades, director of the school system's management and information systems and liaison to the countywide redistricting committee.

"If there's any possibility of a legal question, we have to resolve it now before redistricting goes forward," he said.

The issue is being examined by P. Tyson Bennett, the school system's lawyer.

"There are numerous desegregation cases, but few addressed that point," said Mr. Bennett. "That's why we're looking into it."

Even if racial balance were not an issue, it still would be difficult to open Adams Park on time, because the board has not secured money to plan or perform renovations, nor has it found a new location for the Learning Center, the county's school for children with behavior problems, that now occupies the site.

Of the county's 112 schools, five are more than 50 percent black: Van Bokkelen, Germantown, Parole and Tyler Heights elementaries, and Annapolis Middle School.

But 40 years after the Supreme Court ruled that separate schools for black children were inherently unequal, black parents in the neighborhoods near Adams Park say they want their children going to school near their homes, rather than being bused to Rolling Knolls or West Annapolis elementaries.

"There are two schools of thought within the African-American community," said Leslie Stanton, a member of the Adams Park Community Alumni Association. "Older, more conservative African-Americans are saying, 'We're not interested in community-based schools because it would be reverting to the type of institutions be were attending prior to the Brown decision.

"And then you have younger African-Americans, who are looking at the system in good faith saying we can achieve equality regardless of having an African-American majority at a school and there should be no difference in the quality of education because this is 1994," he said.

Mr. Stanton said parents could monitor the types of teaching materials used and the quality of the school staff to ensure their students weren't being short-changed -- a point the court made in its landmark Brown vs. Board of Education decision. He said reopening the school would restore pride in the Adams Park community and in the children.

"When you're bused past your neighborhood school, it sends a message that you're not worthy of having your own school," he said.

School board member Carlesa Finney said she supports the idea of having Adams Park used again as an elementary school.

"Unfortunately, for the last 20 years every black school was closed, with the exception of Parole Elementary," she said. "When we had segregation, we didn't have so many black students in lower level classes, and we produced doctors and lawyers out of those schools. So you can see what desegregation has done in terms of poor test scores, academics and discipline. And if we need to go back and do some of those things again, then we need to do that."

She said the only problem she sees is that the state agency that oversees school construction might not approve plans to renovate Adams Park or build a new learning center.

Even if money turns out to be a problem, Annapolis residents who fought to persuade the board to reopen the school say they will hold the board to its promise.

"If they renege on that promise, it will set back what had started to be an improved relationship between the board and the community," said Annapolis Alderman Carl O. Snowden, a Ward 4 Democrat. "And there's nothing I know of preventing the school from having white students -- dare I say the word? -- bused into the Adams Park neighborhood."

Reopening Adams Park would allow the school to serve as an anchor in the community, Mr. Snowden said.

"It will get people more involved with children and their school activities, and it will fan the flame . . . of civic pride," he said.

PUBLIC FORUMS

The Anne Arundel County Board of Education has scheduled four public forums in June to discuss redistricting:

* Thursday from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Annapolis High School, 2700 Riva Road.

* June 6 at North County High, 10 E. First Ave.

* June 13 at Severna Park High, 60 Robinson Road.

* June 16 at Old Mill High School, 600 Patriot Lane.

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