School plan called return to segregation Md. board hears lawyer for Odenton parents opposed to redistricting

County adopted plan in '95

Seven Oaks students would be shifted to Meade High system

March 26, 1997|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

The Anne Arundel County school system's 1995 redistricting plan is a return to segregation, the lawyer for an Odenton parents group told the state school board yesterday.

"It would further segregate the public schools in Anne Arundel County," said David Douglas, speaking for residents of the Seven Oaks community who are challenging the countywide plan.

P. Tyson Bennett, the county school board's lawyer, disputed Douglas' contention, arguing that the board had valid reasons for shifting those students.

The redistricting plan adopted by the county school board April 19, 1995, called for shifting children from racially diverse Seven Oaks out of the largely white Arundel Senior High School feeder system and into the Meade Senior High School feeder system, which has a high percentage of minorities.

The state school board heard final arguments yesterday in the Seven Oaks appeal of the local board's decision. The board is likely to rule this spring.

A hearing examiner, who took seven days of testimony last year, barely touched on the racial implications in recommending that the state board overturn the entire redistricting plan based on what she called procedural illegalities.

Douglas told state officials that the racial aspects of the county board's plan for his community were startling.

The board "chose to move the largely minority community [Seven Oaks] out of the [Arundel] feeder system and replace it with a largely majority community, coming out of Crofton," he said.

The school system could have bused Crofton students 10 miles to mostly white South River High School, which has hundreds of empty seats, but it chose to leave them with an eight-mile ride to Arundel Senior High, he said.

Figures from September 1996 show South River High School has 1,099 students.

The school's capacity is 2,030 students.

Douglas said the local board was trying to corral minorities into certain schools.

He noted that Van Bokkelen Elementary School, where nine out of 10 students are black, was once in the Old Mill Senior High School feeder system but now is in Meade's. Similarly, Douglas said, Severn Elementary School, which is 42.5 percent minority, is to be shifted out of Old Mill and into Meade this fall under the 1995 plan.

Bennett said, "This case isn't about race. If anything, it is about class."

The Meade High School boundaries extend west to the Howard County border.

They include some poor minority neighborhoods and encompass transient Fort Meade, along with some middle-class homes. Meade Senior High School also has a reputation of having discipline problems.

Bennett said Douglas was diverting attention from more salient issues.

Administrative Law Judge Georgia Powell "misinterpreted the facts" about how the redistricting plan was drawn up when she said last year that the board had adopted its plan illegally, Bennett said.

The policies were sound, he said, and even if a citizens advisory panel should not have met in private, it should not be held liable for the mistake because it did so on Bennett's advice.

The school board's decision to add Seven Oaks to the Meade schools was logical, Bennett argued.

Seven Oaks is across Route 175 from the military post, where the Meade schools are situated.

"It will give them a brand new, state-of-the-art elementary school, a brand new, state-of-the-art middle school and a high school that is not overcrowded," Bennett said.

The new Meade Heights Elementary School, which will open in September, will be within walking distance of Seven Oaks. A new Meade Area Middle School will open in January 1998. The shift of Seven Oaks students is timed to coincide with both.

Upset parents at Severn Elementary School are watching the Seven Oaks case. If the state school board invalidates only the Meade feeder portions of the redistricting plan, Severn Elementary can remain in Old Mill schools. Under the 1995 plan, those students were shifted from the Old Mill High School feeder system to Meade High School.

"When you move the line, that is old-fashioned segregation," Douglas said after the hearing. "That is why this is so offensive to me."

Pub Date: 3/26/97

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