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Court Action Sought Vote Against Busing

April 15, 1986

NORFOLK, Va. (AP) _ Busing supporters say they will ask the courts to block a plan to return to neighborhood elementary schools, approved after 15 years of busing in a bid to stem white flight to the suburbs.

The city school board voted unanimously Monday to end cross-town busing for the city’s 20,000 elementary school pupils. The new plan would make 10 of 35 neighborhood elementary schools virtually all black.

Board members said the neighborhood schools plan would end white flight and increase parental involvement in the schools. But opponents charged it would resegregate the schools and some blacks called for an economic boycott of businesses to pressure the board into rescinding its action.

″We will never go back to the dark days of segregation,″ said Shirley S. Richardson, a parent. ″This whole country is going to go up in flames and it’s going to start right here in Norfolk, Virginia.″

The system had 56,000 students and was nearly 60 percent white when busing started in 1971. The system now has 35,375 students and is 59 percent black.

The vote by the board, made up of three blacks and four whites, came after an emotional, three-hour public hearing at which nearly 60 people spoke.

More than 200 people crowded into the board’s meeting room or watched the hearing on television monitors down the hall.

″Let’s not prolong the agony,″ said Earlean White, another parent. ″Let the small children go back to neighborhood schools.″

Board members approved a compromise from the original neighborhood schools plan they passed in February 1983. The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has found the plan constitutional, but busing supporters have pledged to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

″We sued them to prevent them from implementing a plan for segregation. I’m disappointed,″ attorney Henry L. Marsh III said after the board vote.

Marsh, who represents 22 blacks in an appeal of a 1984 federal court ruling backing the neighborhood plan, said he would seek an injunction to block its implementation until the Supreme Court decided whether to review it.

On Sunday, some pro-busing organizers called for an economic boycott aimed at the general economy of the city pending resolution of the issue.

″I believe that if you hold your coins long enough, there’s going to be some change in this town,″ the Rev. Anthony C. Paige told a rally of about 800 people.

Paige, who heads the Norfolk Coalition for Quality Education committee, which organized the rally, told those present to buy only essentials until the board changed its mind.

Also at the rally was Martin Luther King III, the 28-year-old son of the slain civil rights leader.

The Rev. G. Wesley Hardy, a black board member who favors busing, presented the compromise to appease blacks who object to neighborhood schools.

It would keep more students in integrated schools by moving sixth-graders to middle schools, where they will continue to be bused.

The compromise also calls for lowering the student-teacher ratio in schools that have large numbers of poor students and reducing the number of all-black schools to eight by closing two schools.

Dr. Lucy R. Wilson, a board member who supports busing, said she backed the compromise because the courts had approved neighborhood schools.

″Our chances for having the circuit court’s decision overturned are indeed dim,″ she said.

Norfolk, which closed its schools for a few months in the late 1950s to avoid integration, began court-ordered busing of elementary pupils in 1971.

A federal judge approved the Norfolk neighborhood schools plan in July 1984, nearly 17 months after the school board voted 5-2 to end busing of elementary students. Busing would continue at the middle school and high school levels.

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