WASHINGTON – Many Maryland school systems said they do not expect upheaval in their student-transfer policies in the wake of a Supreme Court ruling that has Montgomery County scrambling to revamp its procedures.
The Supreme Court this week let stand a lower court ruling that Montgomery County acted unconstitutionally when it denied a transfer to a white student whose school had already lost too many whites.
The ruling “has the potential of creating schools that are racially isolated,” said Pat O’Neill, president of the Montgomery County school board. “We have to look and see what we can do to provide diversity in our schools.”
But a state education official said many other school systems in the state had seen a change coming, and they were already moving away from race as a determining factor in their policy decisions.
“I think the way the courts have come along, everybody has been bracing that they’ll have to change the way they do business,” said Neil Greenberger, a spokesman for the state Department of Education.
In Baltimore County, school officials said the lower court’s decision should have no impact on the county’s schools, because using race in transfer decisions is a thing of the past there.
“We actually had based transfer decisions, in some part in the past, on race,” said Charlie Herndon, a Baltimore County schools spokesman. “We have since updated and revised our policies and school transfers so that (race is) no longer a consideration.”
School officials in both Wicomico and Howard counties also said they do not expect to see significant changes in their policies as a result of the high court action, because they do not base decisions solely on race.
In Wicomico County schools, decisions about student transfers are based on space availability, while the district’s one magnet school accepts students solely on ability, said spokeswoman Tracy Sahler.
The same applies for Howard County, where the school system does not use race as a reason for granting or denying transfers and the two magnet programs accept students based on their performance level, according to spokeswoman Patti Caplan.
Prince George’s County officials also said they do not expect that the ruling will result in a big change in policy as they try to carry out a court order to integrate schools — exactly what Montgomery County said it was trying to do with its student transfer policy. Unlike Prince George’s, however, Montgomery County schools have never been determined by the courts to be racially segregated.
“Prince George’s County is already under court order and we have to abide by the desegregation order emanating from a lawsuit,” said James Henderson, the county’s school board chairman. He said the Supreme Court ruling would “probably not” affect the county’s school placement decisions.
By refusing to hear the Montgomery County appeal, the Supreme Court let stand an October ruling by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. That ruling, that race-based decision-making is unconstitutional in student transfer cases, applies only in the 4th Circuit, which includes Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina.
An official with the National School Boards Association said the court’s decision will mostly affect urban and very large school districts, where there are more minority residents and thus a greater need to balance out school populations.
Race is used as a factor in transfer decisions more often in urban areas “simply because the numbers aren’t there in smaller more suburban areas,” said Edwin Darden, senior staff attorney for the association. “There isn’t as much of a need to balance out the numbers.”