Wake school chair says he wants NAACP meeting about diversity

The state NAACP's president wants to know why Wake County's school board chairman denied his request to speak before the full board of education.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — The president of the state NAACP wants to know why Wake County's school board chairman denied a request to speak before the full board regarding the district's longstanding diversity policy.

Rev. William Barber said Thursday that he sent a letter to school board Chairman Ron Margiotta asking to give a 45-minutes presentation but that Margiotta offered him only an opportunity to meet with the board's leadership.

Margiotta said Thursday that the decision is consistent with the board's past practice over many years to refuse such a request. It does allow time during each public meeting for public comments at a maximum of three minutes each.

"We actually extended ourselves, as far as I'm concerned. It's very rare that the school board gives these meeting to any group," he said. "We really welcome sitting down with (Barber) and discussing these issues."

The state NAACP opposes a plan by the school board's majority that would end the decade-old practice of assigning students to maintain socio-economic diversity in the school system.

As it stands now, the policy allows no more than 40 percent of students receiving free or reduced-price lunches at any school. Students are reassigned each year to maintain that level, as well as to fill new schools and relieve overcrowding.

At least five of the school board's nine members have indicated that they plan to end the practice in favor of neighborhood schools so that parents have more choices in where their children are educated.

Barber argues that doing so would re-segregate schools and deny children their constitutional rights to a sound, basic education.

"The cynical and dangerous push to separate our children cannot be tolerated," he said. "Re-segregation under the guise of 'neighborhood schools' is the enemy of student achievement."

Instead, he is pushing for equity in funding, high-quality teachers and smaller class sizes, as well as more parental involvement.

"I think there is a stretch when they're talking about re-segregation," Margiotta said. "That's something that will never happen in Wake County. We would never permit that to happen."

Margiotta said the board is also tackling other issues that economically disadvantaged students face, such as improving graduation rates and test scores and reducing the high rate of suspensions.

"We've appointed a committee that is going after some of the concerns that I would think we share with Rev. Barber," he said. "I mean, that's something we're going to go after, and we're going to take positive steps there, and hopefully, the reverend understands that and would want to cooperate in any way he could."

The NAACP isn't the only group that has asked to meet with the school board.

The North Carolina chapter of Americans for Prosperity, a local conservative group that supports ending the diversity policy, recently asked for equal time to talk to the board about budget practices.

"We didn't even offer to meet with them as a leadership team," Margiotta said.

"The past practice has not been pleasant to groups, and I think we've extended ourselves by offering a meeting with the leadership," he added. "I certainly want to listen."