Education

NAACP upset by Wake school board chair's comment

Posted March 4, 2010 5:22 p.m. EST
Updated March 5, 2010 11:14 a.m. EST

— The state NAACP says it will hold a news conference Friday following a remark made earlier this week in which the Wake County school board chairman called a crowd at the school board meeting "animals."

The school board voted 5-4 Tuesday in favor of a controversial resolution to move toward community-based schools and away from the school system's longstanding diversity policy.

The meeting room was packed with nearly 100 people who signed up to speak during a public comment portion of the tense and emotional meeting and included speakers for and against the school board's resolution.

At one point, Chairman Ron Margiotta said, "Here come the animals out of the cages."

Margiotta said Wednesday that he was responding to how rude people in the crowd were following a comment by Bill Randall, a black congressional candidate speaking in support of the resolution.

When asked again Thursday, Margiotta said he felt like he was out of order when he made the comment, but he was caught up in the moment.

"He happened to be a friend of mine. It was the way he was treated by the audience," he said.

State NAACP President Rev. William Barber will speak about the comment Friday.

"It is derogatory at its core, anyway, to refer to citizens who are merely speaking to issues they are concerned about as animals," Barber said.

"If he would say this on an open mic, what is being said behind closed doors," Barber asked.

"Any public official referring to those with opposing viewpoints, engaged in the democratic process as animals is unacceptable," Amina Turner, state NAACP executive director, said.

"We just had someone speak in praise of the board, and there was such a ruckus that broke out," board member Debra Goldman said. "People were acting very aggressive and very angry.

"I think, whatever Mr. Margiotta said, he was really stressed," she said.

School board member Keith Sutton issued a statement Thursday saying: "I have a great deal of respect for Mr. Margiotta as a person and as the chair of our board. To hear him make these disparaging remarks about anybody regardless of race is extremely disappointing."

The state NAACP has been an outspoken critic of the school board's idea for community-based schools, saying it is a "racially discriminatory policy" that will segregate poor students and keep them from receiving the same quality of education as more advantaged students. The group has threatened legal action against the school system.

School board members, however, have insisted that they have no plans to segregate students and that student achievement is their top priority.