School board in Arundel drops appeal to redistrict Seven Oaks parents say plan is discriminatory


The Anne Arundel County school board has backed off its appeal of a racially charged redistricting plan for Seven Oaks so that it will be free to consider new attendance zones for all of west county in the next year or two, which would include the Seven Oaks community.

Taking the Seven Oaks battle, which began in 1995, through the Maryland Court of Special Appeals would take more than another year. If the board won, its victory by then would have little value. The Seven Oaks plan now in dispute is based on student population information from 1994, which will be out of date by next year or 2000 in the rapidly growing west county area, said P. Tyson Bennett, school board attorney.

"It certainly doesn't mean the board can't review redistricting for Seven Oaks again," Bennett said.

Those are fighting words to the Seven Oaks parents who have been at war with the school board since 1992 and claim the board is trying to corral minorities in the Meade Senior High School feeder schools.

"It's really clear that they dropped it to come after us again," said Zoe Draughon, a Seven Oaks parent who vowed to continue the fight.

But Bennett stopped short of predicting that the school board would make a fourth effort to shift Seven Oaks out of the Arundel Senior High School feeder system and into Meade Senior High's.

The board will need to draw new boundaries in that vicinity next year or in 2000, because Piney Orchard Elementary School should open in 2000 and other Arundel Senior High feeder schools are crowded.

A group of Seven Oaks parents has stymied three board attempts to move students from the racially diverse Seven Oaks community.

The state Board of Education faulted the school board last May for the failure of its citizens' committee to "consider the racial implications of the Seven Oaks redistricting" in its recommendations.

Parents contended that shifting the half-minority community out of the overwhelmingly white Arundel feeder system and into the half-minority Meade feeder was segregation. An Anne Arundel Circuit Court judge ruled in January that she had no jurisdiction to review it.

School board members have repeatedly denied that race was involved with the planned shift. Officials have argued that Seven Oaks parents did not want their students moved from what is viewed as a more upscale and stable group of schools to Meade schools, an area that includes military base housing and at least two poor and mostly black neighborhoods.

Two groups of parents, one from Seven Oaks and another whose children were shifted from the Old Mill High School feeder system and into the Meade feeder, filed a federal civil rights complaint last year claiming that moving them to Meade was planned only as the student population approached a half-minority level.

The complaint is pending. So is the lawsuit Seven Oaks parents filed in Anne Arundel Circuit Court, arguing that advisory group meetings for the 1995 redistricting plan were held in violation of the state's Open Meetings Act.

School board member Vaughn Brown said school officials are planning to review attendance zones because of the crowding in the Arundel feeder schools. The new Piney Orchard school may take the pressure off the crowded elementary schools, but it will not help ease the crowding at the two middle schools or the high school.

"It's tough to address Piney Orchard without also looking at the adjoining attendance areas," Brown said.

Last year, the school board was sympathetic to white parents in the northern tier of Edgewater, who wanted their children removed from the mostly minority Annapolis schools and sent 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 because many of their arguments had been similar.

Pub Date: 5/19/98

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