Parents say two schools are segregated Silver Spring residents file civil rights complaint

May 12, 1998|By Candus Thomson | Candus Thomson,SUN STAFF

Parents in a Silver Spring neighborhood have filed a civil rights complaint with the federal government, accusing local school officials of turning two elementary schools into warehouses for some of the poorest, minority children in Montgomery County.

The complaint, filed yesterday with the Department of Education, alleges school board decisions over the last 13 years have led to segregation at New Hampshire Estates and Oak View elementary schools, depriving students of an equal education.

Further, the complaint says, the school board had an opportunity to correct racial and economic imbalances when it revised school boundaries in March but instead increased segregation through gerrymandering.

The parents want the government to investigate school board decisions and, if necessary, withhold $14 million in federal aid until discrimination is eliminated.

"The school board's policy is 'Success for Every Student.' Well, there's rhetoric and there's reality," said parent Greg Silsbee, who signed the complaint. "The school board is not serious about its own policies. These kids are being warehoused."

Montgomery schools spokesman Brian Porter said the board's action in setting boundaries was "appropriate and lawful" and considered the views of residents whose children go to the 11 elementary schools that feed into Montgomery Blair High School.

The two elementary schools, just inside the Washington Beltway, are paired, with New Hampshire Estates housing kindergarten through second grade, and Oak View, grades three through six. They serve an area that includes both brick homes on tree-lined streets and run-down apartment buildings along major thoroughfares.

The gerrymandering has created school attendance areas that aren't contiguous, requiring busing that costs almost $500,000 a year, the parents say.

Together, the schools have a nonwhite enrollment of 91 percent -- almost twice the average in the school system and 20 percent higher than the nine other elementary schools in the Blair area. They also have among the highest proportions of students who participate in the Free and Reduced Meals programs (79 percent) and speak English as a second language (29 percent).

New Hampshire Estates third-graders scored at or slightly below the state average on Maryland School Performance Assessment Program tests. But scores plummet by the time youngsters reach fifth grade. Of the county's 118 elementary schools, Oak View ranked last on the MSPAP tests, and last or next to last on local reading and math tests.

"The slippage of test scores is alarming," Silsbee said. "It's inexcusable in a county this wealthy. They ought to be embarrassed."

The school board had to redraw the attendance boundaries to take into account the annexation of parts of Takoma Park and the opening of an elementary school within one mile of Oak View.

"There are 10 [elementary] schools within a six-mile radius," said Silsbee. "We just wanted to see some attempt made at balancing things."

Pub Date: 5/12/98

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