Education

Wake school board says lawsuit 'really about politics'

Posted May 13, 2010

Wake County Public School System
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— An attorney for the Wake County school board says his client went "above and beyond" to ensure its meetings have been conducted properly and to provide the public "ample opportunity" to attend and observe.

"This case is really about politics," Raleigh attorney Kieran Shanahan said in a response filed Thursday to a lawsuit alleging the Board of Education violated the state's Open Meetings Law with the way it handled key public meetings on March 23.

The board voted 5-4 that day on a directive to move forward with a controversial idea to assign students based on where they live rather than socio-economic factors. That would mean ending a longstanding policy of busing students to help create diversity in the system's schools.

"Plaintiffs, having failed to carry the day on their view on the Wake County school assignment policy, turn to the court, in what amounts to a political Hail Mary, seeking to delay and obstruct the Wake County Board of Education by collaterally attacking the process via an Open Meetings Law challenge to the board's actions," Shanahan wrote in the 34-page response.

The case goes before a Superior Court judge at 9:30 a.m. Friday in Wake County courtroom 5-C.

The board's community-assignment model has been controversial, with opponents expressing concerns about re-segregation and accusing some board members of being racist.

Public comment at previous board meetings drew large numbers of people. That prompted the school board to put in place a ticket-distribution policy, which they say was for personal and fire safety concerns.

But the plaintiffs – a group of Wake County citizens represented by numerous civil rights groups and private attorneys – say the board's actions kept them and numerous others from being a part of the meeting. The main meeting room at the Wake County Public School System's headquarters has a capacity of 153 people.

They want the court to invalidate the actions taken at the March 23 meeting and require new, clear and consistent procedures be put in place to ensure that all members of the public who want to attend meetings are allowed to do so and effectively participate in the process.

They plaintiffs allege that the school board made no effort to make it possible for everyone to attend, even though larger venues were available, and made no attempt to provide adequate audio or video coverage of the meeting to the public waiting outside the meeting room.

The ticket policy, their lawsuit says, changed during the course of the day, and some people with tickets were told they could not leave the building or would lose their place while others were permitted to leave and return.

But Shanahan outlines what he calls reasonable steps taken to try to accommodate as many people as possible at the meetings and argues that the Open Meetings Law doesn't guarantee "universal attendance."

"Contrary to Plaintiffs' unsupported claims, the Open Meetings Law does not provide individual members of the public with an absolute right to attend any specific public meeting," he wrote.

Citing a decision by the state Court of Appeals, he wrote that the law's purpose is to "conduct the public's business in public" and "to promote openness in the daily workings of public bodies."

At its May 4 meeting, the school board voted 4-3 in favor of the new assignment policy. A second vote is required, and opponents, like Great Schools in Wake Coalition, are urging large attendance at the May 18 meeting, when that vote is expected.

One group, calling itself the Student Army of Wake County, has set up a Facebook event inviting people to the event. Nearly 70 people had confirmed their attendance as of Thursday evening.

Shanahan said in his response that the school board has anticipated a large crowd for that meeting and has made efforts to accommodate the turnout by outfitting two meeting rooms with a video feed. That increases the capacity by 105 seats.

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  • DontLikeTheSocialistObama May 14, 2010

    If they would keep out the paid protesters who got arrested at the previous meetings. There would be enough room for all interested parties.

    Most of the paid protesters who were arrested either lived outside of Wake County or were too young to have kids in the county schools.

  • mindofreason May 14, 2010

    tamiya, the offer to BUY rental space for WCPSS at Fletcher was not politically motivated, even if CBC has their own ax to grind. The truth is, CBC and N&O offered to buy the auditorium for the meeting, and that is my main issue. If you believe the offer is politically motivated, then certainly you can see the arrogance of the board to block attendance of any and all interested parties as also politically motivated.

  • mindofreason May 14, 2010

    sumpinlikedat, Comparing the school district in Chicago, and the school district in Wake County is not an apples to apples comparison. I appreciate the sentiment though, and even as a supporter of diversity in schools, I can admit the program here still needed fixes. For starters, Chicago's system consistently rates at the bottom of the schools in the country, and the demographics and geographic size are not comparable either. Lastly, in Chicago true neighborhoods exist where a school was built to service each, but that has not been the case here. Lets not forget, that only 3% (or 10%, I get all these numbers confused, but a small number nonetheless) were bussed for diversity. Why not fix the program we have that encourages diversity (as in the real world) instead of costing the school system millions on an experiment.

  • tamiya_stars May 14, 2010

    If Wake Cares was attempting to pack the meeting with outsiders then they are 100% wrong too, and I do not support them. As for moving the meeting place and the "free" publicity from WRAL, it is no secret where WRAL and their parent company CBC stand on this issue, they have even gone as far as running commercials about it (in case you missed those). So it should be no surprise the offer was refused, being that the offer itself was politically motivated.

  • mindofreason May 14, 2010

    artist, any=all, you can't say any but then limit. Just like with my NEPA meetings, any=all. It also does cover public comment, you can't limit the public's ability to comment on a topic that their taxes are paying for. EVER!

    Also, it is not about MY sole attendance, but if I couldn't leave, I am sure others couldn't and that is simply not fair. Also, those extra meeting rooms they use are taken away from staff members with meetings scheduled there (I know this for FACT) and that is not fair to them. Holding this particular meeting at a larger venue offered to the county for free would have solved all their problems. However, the arrogance of the board majority decided the law did not apply to them...

  • theartistformerlyknownasspeedy May 14, 2010

    mind: sorry, it does not make sense. it says "any", NOT "all".

    I'm not aware that public comment is even part of it, is it?

    I'm so sorry the Board could not schedule around your work. I'll see if they can check with your boss next time.

  • sumpinlikedat May 14, 2010

    As someone who attended and graduated from Wake County schools, I have to say something about this hubbub.

    The idea that wanting neighborhood schools makes one racist is bunk. My oldest daughter attended kindergarten in Chicago before we moved back to NC, and in Chicago, they operate a neighborhood school system in which parents get to choose which school their child should attend. The school my daughter attended was well-staffed, her teacher was one of the best I have ever seen, and she was well on track to be ahead of the game for the first grade - and she was the ONLY white child in her class. She was one of only 10 or so white children in the school. Her school in Harnett County, however, is probably 75% white, and she's not getting nearly the education she was in Chicago.

    Busing kids 2 hours round-trip every day so that the county can pat themselves on the back and say "Oh, we are helping these kids by making every school have 40% low-income students!!" isn't good for anyone.

  • mindofreason May 14, 2010

    artist, actually "open" is defined as open in the sense that any and all members of the public are allowed to attend and comment if they would like. No different than the NEPA open meetings I have facilitated, where they can go until 3 in the morning because of the number of comments. Open does not mean limited MY attendance, because I was unable to leave work to go sit in central office all day. That has to make sense right?

  • mindofreason May 14, 2010

    Once again tamiya, you blow over the fact that the board was offered at no cost to them a larger venue, for the taking. Why not move the meeting there? To say because the date would have to move it too easy, because we all know that if they pushed it a week, WRAL and N&O would have given plenty of publicity and the same LARGE group of people would have attended. As for the Goldsboro, Chapel Hill crowd, lets not forget that WakeCares paid to bring in people from outside to rail against YR, so once again I say what is good for the goose is good for the gander...I don't agree with either side doing it, but being against this group doing it, when you were for WakeCares doing it, is flat out hypocritical.

  • theartistformerlyknownasspeedy May 14, 2010

    "the NC Open Meetings Law was established by the General Assembly" mindofreason

    And apparently, the Board knows the rules, because they were followed.

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