Education: Open Those School Doors

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The only U.S. county to close all its public schools rather than desegregate them is Virginia's Prince Edward (pop. 14,000), whose schoolhouse doors have stayed shut for three years. Last week Federal District Judge Oren R. Lewis rejected Prince Edward's elaborate device to avoid obeying the law of the land.

In 1959 the county abruptly cut off tax levies for public schools, replaced them with the Prince Edward School Foundation—a "private" school system for about 1,400 white children, who took their lessons in churches and public halls. The foundation got state and county grants covering all of the tuition—except for $15 that parents were charged. Most of the county's 1,700 Negro children have gone without formal schooling for three years.

Judge Lewis last fall outlawed the public "grants" to the Prince Edward School Foundation, but there remained a prickly question: Could the county be compelled to reopen its public schools? Since ultimate responsibility for public education falls upon the states, Judge Lewis ruled last week that the county's schools "may not be closed to avoid the effect of the law of the land as interpreted by the Supreme Court, while the Commonwealth of Virginia permits other public schools to remain open at the expense of the taxpayers." Therefore, ruled the judge, Prince Edward must submit a plan to reopen its schools to all pupils "without regard to race or color" and "at the earliest practical date."