Parents take woes to U.S. rights office Officials weigh claim school districting plan resegregates races

Meade High lines at issue

November 07, 1997|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

Federal authorities are evaluating claims that Anne Arundel County school officials are moving to resegregate schools by drawing attendance areas in ways that concentrate minorities in a few schools.

West County parents complained to the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights that the school system is corralling communities with large numbers of minority families into the Meade Senior High School feeder system.

That school cluster serves Fort Meade, two poor and overwhelmingly minority housing complexes and other nearby neighborhoods. Overall, the feeder system is 47.7 percent minority.

Two parents who filed complaints refused to discuss them.

A spokesman for the civil rights office said officials are evaluating several complaints from parents, but have not decided whether to open an investigation.

Lawyers for the Office of Civil Rights said they had not notified the school system of the complaints.

School board member Vaughn Brown, who lives in the Meade area, called the allegations "ludicrous" and said the school board was trying to relieve crowding in the two feeder systems adjacent to Meade, which are mostly white.

"The school board was trying to balance overall populations of students in available schools. It had nothing to do with the racial mix," he said. "I find the suggestion offensive."

The complaining parents live in Severn and the Seven Oaks community of Odenton.

The complaints to federal officials are similar to those made to the state about two years ago, when parents in Seven Oaks protested school board efforts to move their children from the Arundel Senior High School feeder system to the Meade system.

Last spring, the State Board of Education overturned the part of the Anne Arundel board's 1995 countywide redistricting plan that applied to Seven Oaks, based on complaints from parents in the racially mixed planned community.

Yesterday, lawyers for the local board asked Anne Arundel Circuit Judge Pamela L. North to review that decision, while Seven Oaks parents sought to have the board's request dismissed. North heard two hours of arguments, but did not rule.

1995 plan criticized

In its opinion in May, the state school board criticized the Seven Oaks portion of the 1995 redistricting as "contrary to sound educational policy."

Yesterday, Richard I. Kovelant, a lawyer advising several Severn parents who filed federal civil rights complaints, said, "You can't tell me segregated schools are sound educational policy." Making Severn Elementary, which is 48 percent minority, part of the Meade feeder system, amounts to "de facto segregation," he said.

Several times in recent years, school board members have said they were trying to promote neighborhood schools, which Kovelant ridiculed as a euphemism for resegregation.

"I think I remember that from the '60s," he said, referring to school integration battles.

Successful arguments

Many black parents in Annapolis this spring argued successfully for returning their children to schools closer to home, even though the minority percentage in the schools rose. They said that was preferable to splitting children from poorer black neighborhoods among several schools, some mostly white and far from where the students live.

Similarly, the school board was sympathetic this spring to white parents in the northern tier of Edgewater, who wanted their communities removed from the mostly minority Annapolis schools and sent instead to predominantly white Edgewater schools. The parents said that from religious worship to shopping to scouting, they were part of the Edgewater community, not Annapolis.

Seven Oaks parents were angry when that happened because many of their arguments had been similar.

"To them [the board] it is logical that a white community would feel they are part of a white community and want to go to a white school. But because we are a majority minority community, the school system could not fathom that we could belong in a feeder system that was majority white," said frequent school critic Zoe Draughon of Seven Oaks.

Pub Date: 11/07/97

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