Wake County Schools

USDA letter raises issue with old Wake student assignment plan

Posted March 3, 2011
Updated March 4, 2011

— Free and reduced-priced lunch data can’t be considered when it comes to school districts determining where students go to school.

That’s according to a letter and e-mail exchanges from federal investigators that are part of documents released this week in an ongoing federal civil rights investigation into the Wake County Public School System’s controversial assignment policy adopted last fall, which is partly based on how close students live to schools.

The documents, which were provided to the U.S. Office of Civil Rights by the school system, were released as part of a public records request from WRAL News and other media outlets.

In a split-decision last year, the school board voted 5-4 to eliminate its decade-old policy of busing students to help ensure that no school has more than 40 percent of its student population receiving free or reduced-priced lunches – an indicator used to help balance each school’s socio-economic diversity.

But a Feb. 26, 2009, letter from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to the state Department of Public Instruction, as well as e-mails last month between school board attorney Ann Majestic and federal investigators, indicate that, because student assignment is considered a local education program, the free and reduced-priced lunch data cannot be used as a factor in student assignment.

Majestic had asked in the e-mails for clarification of the letter and law, saying "it seems the board could not continue with its past practices, even if it wanted to."

The interpretation of the two attorneys responding to Majestic was that, even though the board didn’t look at individual student information, law prohibits the school system from using any information related to free and reduced-price lunch data.

Legality of Wake schools diversity policy questioned Legality of Wake schools diversity policy questioned

The state NAACP, which filed the civil rights complaint last year, had no comment Thursday, other than to say it was looking at the e-mail exchanges and whether the conclusions in them are the law or interpretations of the law.

School board members also question the interpretation, since free and reduced-priced lunch information is used in the federal No Child Left Behind Act and North Carolina’s state education report card uses the data to rate schools.

The USDA letter mentions federal and state education programs, but it’s unclear if those are authorized to use the information.

Education experts say the U.S. Secretary of Education might have to clarify the issue soon, as many school districts nationwide use similar programs for student assignment purposes.

School board member John Tedesco, who chairs the board’s Economically Disadvantaged Student Performance Task Force, said the documents mean the school board is "on the right track" in its new student assignment policy, which takes effect in the 2012-2013 school year.

Superintendent Tony Tata is developing a plan to implement the new policy and is looking at a "controlled choice" model, which considers four factors for student assignment: stability for students, choice for parents, assigning students to schools close to their homes and student achievement.


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  • SpaceRokr Mar 4, 2011

    How about this: "Using" any data costs us taxpayers money. Busing costs us money. Changing curricula mid-year costs us money. Giving special treatment to anyone costs us money. Getting lawyers involved costs us money.

    Remember being a kid? Ever feel different than your peers? Lose your sense of belonging? Did it hold you back from success?

    The kids whom busing is about, do you think that they might feel more different with all of this in the media? Might they lose more of a sense of belonging when something new is invoked due to the unpredictable and newest redistricting each year.

    So, let's put some stakes in the ground, pull strings between them, and dictate which school you go to depending on which side of the string you live. For exceptions to this, please contact DSS for assistance.

    Let's consolidate costs and let the various County DSSs handle the needy cases. Everyone else - just go to the closest school.

  • mrcrosbys Mar 4, 2011

    It is very silly to think that "poor" schools are poor because of the teachers. Every Title I school I've ever been to has teachers who work really hard, but you cannot teach those who don't want to learn. You can say that teachers aren't reaching/teaching them correctly, but after you've exhausted every option, education is a personal responsibility. Yes, it is a right -- it is a right that it is PROVIDED to you. I think someone on here already said this: "You can lead a camel to water, but you cannot force it to drink." It's all about the priorities of the parents and community. "Poor" doesn't refer to the socio-economic level when talking about schools -- it refers to that personal responsibility I mentioned, as well as discipline and parental involvement

    Who cares, losers breed losers. Winners breed winners. Where do you and yours fall into it?

  • mrcrosbys Mar 4, 2011

    It absolutely is true. Look up the court case "Regents of the University of California v. Bakke", the conditions of that situation, and the results for Allan Bakke vs Patrick Chavis. Why would the situation ever be better now than it was when the government needed the system to absolutely work and to not be a fiasco?

    The situtations have nothing to do with each other and are seperated by almost 40 years. And no one cares

  • wakemom Mar 4, 2011

    this entire issue has become racist bc you have ppl such as many of you on this site that make comments on a racial level. many of you act like blacks are the only ppl that are poort. then you have the nerve to categorize the entire black population (ex southeast raleigh). next many of you say things that if you cant go to your kids school to volunteer then you're not a good parent. Excuse me but how are you getting the parent of the year award when every min you're name is posted on page after page on GOLO? you think that bc you live in a big house you're smart.. NEXT... many of you cant comment on a story w/o putting barber's name in the comment section. it could be about race car driving and here comes barber's name.. i can go on and on. but i would say that many of you need to start checking yourself.

  • Bring on the 4 Dollar Gas Mar 4, 2011

    this is old news. as of yesterday, any hopes the diversity supporters at all costs had of reversing the end of diversity based assignments, ended yesterday.

    YEAH to that!!

  • pooodaddy Mar 4, 2011

    I vote that "imwithcoffee" be nominated for some award. This is probably the smartest person that has ever commented on WRAL. Brains and common sense? I didn't think these two virtues existed together anymore.

  • davisgw Mar 4, 2011

    Well, since so many on here think the USDA only inspects food they should do away with the free program.

  • YoucanthandletheTRUTH Mar 4, 2011

    OGE: Free and reduced lunch is their business and they can determine in what areas their stats are used.

  • wralgolo2 Mar 4, 2011

    This should be the top story WRAL, why are you so scared to run it as such?

  • Not_So_Dumb Mar 4, 2011

    "The USDA has to do with food and food safety....it's none of their business what criteria WCPSS uses to determine where they put their kids."-OGE

    True from that angle, but not from all. It is not business of one government agency what you tell another government agency, unless you provide consent. Limited government and all that.

    Of course, we have the Patriot Act so the government can legally spy on you and find this out if they want to...