Schools: Opening Up Prince Edward

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The 1,700 Negro children of Virginia's Prince Edward County, mostly unschooled for four years because bitter-end segregationists closed down the public education system, can go back to class Sept. 16. A new, privately organized Prince Edward Free School Association will lease three of the closed schoolhouses and open them, for up to a year, to all comers.

In effect, this probably means that most of the 1,300 white children will continue to go, as they have since 1959, to the white-only private system (tuition: about $250 a year) that operates in churches, public halls and one newly built private high school. But Negroes and any whites who want to join them for reasons of economy or principle will go to association schools. Teachers, Negro and white, are being recruited from all over the U.S.

The new system is not intended as a permanent answer to Prince Edward's refusal to integrate its schools; that question is tied up in state and federal courts and may take another year to settle. The Free School Association is basically the product of President Kennedy's decision last February that some means had to be devised to let Prince Edward's illiterate young Negroes start catching up on lost schooling. The Justice Department, seeking a method that would not prejudice the legal issue (that is, whether Virginia law requires the county to provide public education), picked the private school idea. A young department lawyer, William J. vanden Heuvel, worked two months negotiating details. In the end he won the assent of Prince Edward's leading whites and Negroes, the Virginia N.A.A.C.P. and Virginia's Governor Albertis S. Harrison Jr. This week big foundations are being asked for money to run the new schools. Estimated cost: $1,000,000.