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School-boundary suit filed by Seven Oaks parents will go to trial, judge rules


A suit to overturn the county Board of Education's plan for new school boundaries will go to trial, an Anne Arundel County judge ruled yesterday.

Without comment, Judge H. Chester Goudy Jr. denied the school board's motion to dismiss the suit filed by two Seven Oaks parents. No trial date has been scheduled.

"We were confident the judge would agree this merits judicial review," said Zoe B. Draughon, who filed the suit along with Linda A. Lotz. "The attitude of the school board to blithely dismiss any position taken by parents that doesn't agree with the board's actions is not going to be accepted anymore, not by parents and, luckily for us, not by the court."

The women sued in December, arguing that a citizens committee that advised the school board on the new attendance districts violated Maryland's open meetings law by meeting several times in secret. Under the plan, their children would move from elementary and middle schools that feed into Arundel High School to schools in the Meade High School system.

P. Tyson Bennett, the board lawyer, said yesterday that he was )) disappointed in Judge Goudy's ruling.

"I don't know what the judge's rationale was, but I am confident the suit will ultimately be thrown out," Mr. Bennett said.

Monday, Mr. Bennett argued that the open meetings law should not apply to the committee, known as the Countywide School Redistricting Committee, because it did not meet the definition of a public body.

Yesterday, he said the suit is "just another in a series of salvos that the Seven Oaks people are firing at the school board to try and keep redistricting from occurring."

Mr. Bennett pointed out that Seven Oaks residents have appealed the board's plan to the state Board of Education and that Mrs. Draughon "also wrote a letter to the state superintendent with a second request that board member Maureen Carr-York be removed" for remarks she made during a board meeting last year.

In addition, other Seven Oaks residents not involved in the suit asked the U.S. Department of Justice in January to investigate whether the new school boundaries would affect the racial distribution of students.

This month, Mrs. Draughon, a member of the Seven Oaks Community Association, wrote to Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, asking him to investigate why the Department of Justice had not responded to the other Seven Oaks residents' request.

The redistricting plan eventually would send 1,640 students to new schools.

The only ones affected this fall would be children from Manhattan Beach, who would shift to Severna Park Middle School, and students who would shift from various Pasadena-area elementary schools to the new Solley Elementary School.

The other moves wouldn't occur until school construction projects were completed.

It is unclear how the suit will affect the plans for Manhattan Beach and Solley Elementary students in the fall.

If the board is required to scrap the existing plan, its own policies would prevent it from putting a new plan into effect before September 1996.

The policy requires the superintendent to present a new redistricting plan between Sept. 30 and Dec. 31, and allows the board until April 30 to vote on it.

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