Says prejudice caused crowding, portables a possibility next year
Racism is a significant cause of the growing overcrowding problem at Blair, alleges Principal Phillip Gainous, who also says that next year, only five years after the opening of the University Boulevard building, the school might require portable classrooms.
With a population of nearly 3,200 students, Blair is well over its capacity of 2,800. According to Gainous, racism has shaped MCPS boundary line decisions over the last two decades, causing a surplus of students in the Blair district.
When Blair's looming overpopulation problem was originally discussed in the 1980s and early 1990s, redrawing the boundary lines for Blair and surrounding high schools was suggested as a solution. According to Gainous, the prospect of redistricting area high schools to relieve Blair's overcrowding was met with vehement opposition from neighboring communities that did not want to enroll Blair's poor minority students in their schools. "It frankly became racial," he said.
Gainous interpreted the opposition of some members of the communities with majority white populations to mean, "I want these [white students], but don't give me those [minority] ones." He specifically singled out Walter Johnson and Bethesda-Chevy Chase (B-CC) high schools as opposing redistricting because it would add more minorities into those schools.
According to spokesman Brian Porter, MCPS Superintendent Jerry Weast acknowledges that massive changes in county demographics "were not well handled in years past" and created "significant imbalances" in racial breakdowns of area high schools.
Carole Brand, a former cluster coordinator for B-CC, denied claims that any racism was involved with decisions regarding the drawing of boundary lines. "This community is not a racist community," said Brand. "I'm surprised one community would say this about another."
Blair Ewing, president of the Montgomery County Council and a former member of the Montgomery County Board of Education, also disagrees with Gainous' contention that racism has been a primary factor in the overcrowding at Blair. Ewing said he found the claim astonishing.
Gainous admitted that the racism he witnessed was never overt and so would be difficult to prove. Nevertheless, he maintains that racism was often a force in decisions regarding boundaries.
He points to the decision to add 200 primarily minority students from the Prince George's County part of Takoma Park to Blair's already overcrowded roster in 1997 as an example of racism affecting boundary decisions. He believes that although those students could have been bused to the then-under-enrolled B-CC, the political will necessary to force such a move and thereby ease Blair's enrollment problems was lacking. The B-CC community did not want the Takoma Park population in its schools, and that population did not want to go where they would not be welcomed, Gainous said.
B-CC, which had an under-enrollment of nearly 500 students in 1997, clearly had more room for new students than did Blair. Even today, B-CC is under-enrolled. According to Cathie Goltz, co-president of the B-CC PTSA, the newly renovated B-CC building will have a capacity of 1,600 students when completed in January; the student population will number only 1,340.
Gainous feels that Blair's overpopulation has been caused in part by the reluctance of other schools to accept poor minority students who might put a strain on their resources.
Blair, with a racial breakdown of 56 percent black and Hispanic students, is more diverse than B-CC, which has a 32 percent black and Hispanic population. Nearly 21 percent of Blair, 650 students, qualifies for the Free and Reduced-Price Meal Service (FARMS), a program considered indicative of a student's economic status, compared with only 12 percent of students at B-CC.
Another apparent incident of racism affecting boundary decisions occurred in 1981, when Blair was 58 percent minority and nearly in violation of federal desegregation statutes. In an incident of so-called white flight, the families of white students living within blocks of the Wayne Avenue Blair campus lobbied to have their children redistricted to Einstein High School, at the time a majority white school. Blair teachers were mystified when they discovered that a group of middle-class white students living blocks from the campus had been redistricted out of Blair.
Some officials counter the allegations of racism by saying that minority students preferred to attend Blair. The families from the Prince George's section of Takoma Park, according to Ewing, did not want to be assigned to other high schools that were farther away from their homes. "The overwhelming sentiment was that the people who lived in that part of Takoma Park wanted to attend Blair," said Ewing.
Porter, the superintendent's spokesman, affirmed Ewing's view. "People coming from Prince George's to Montgomery County were very eager to attend Montgomery Blair High School and its feeder schools," said Porter.
According to Gainous, Blair has always been reluctant to force minority students to attend schools where their presence is unwanted. "Our community said, 'We'll keep them all if you don't want them,'" he said.
Matt Yalowitz. Matthew Yalowitz, a junior in the Communication Arts Program, is enjoying the school year as a page editor on the staff of Silver Chips. In his spare time from Chips, Matthew enjoys fencing, running cross country and helping to get the Blair Student Democrats Club … More »
Julia Kay. Julia Kay, a senior in the magnet program, proudly serves with Kang-Xing as one of Chips' Managing News Editors. She brings to the staff three years of experience as a software and movie reviewer for the Washington Post's Fast Forward magazine. In addition to working … More »