Wake group holds vigil on school diversity

Posted March 22, 2010 10:26 p.m. EDT
Updated March 23, 2010 12:05 a.m. EDT

— A group opposed to the Wake County Board of Education's plans to end the school system's long-standing diversity policy held a candlelight vigil in protest Monday evening.

The vigil at Martin Street Baptist Church, 1001 E. Martin St., Raleigh comes on the eve of the school board's second and final vote on an assignment model in which students go to schools within a certain community zone. The plan in place now buses students across the school district to help achieve socio-economic diversity, where no school has more than 40 percent of students receiving free or reduced-price lunches.

Around 300 people packed into the church Monday to express their concerns with the neighborhood schools resolution.

"My desire is for the school board to slow down (and) to review,” mother Lisa Scales said.

But despite calls from organizations, business leaders, parents and community members to reconsider the move, five of the school board's nine members have indicated that they support the community-based assignment plan.

"I am pretty proud of what we are doing,” board member Chris Malone said Monday.

Malone, who was elected during last year's general election, says the current busing policy is not working.

"There are kids out there who are not succeeding right now,” Malone said.

Opponents say changing the current plan in favor of neighborhood schools would disrupt diversity at schools.

"It is really encouraging to see so many people out here supporting what I think is a good cause,” board member Keith Sutton said Monday at the vigil.

The Wake County Clergy Coalition helped organize the vigil. As part of the coalition's efforts, more than 20 ministers, priests and rabbis signed a petition calling on the board to postpone Tuesday's vote.

“To implore all of our moral, political and legal means that are at our disposal to stop what is being planned in Wake County,” Rev. William Barber, president of the state NAACP, said of the coalition's plans.

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

"If all we are going to get is push back on everything that we do, and basically a big no, then we are left to our own devices to do it our way,” Malone said.

The school board’s final vote Tuesday would direct a student assignment committee to take input and create a plan for community assignment zones over the next nine to 15 months.

With a large attendance expected at Tuesday's meeting, the school system announced that tickets will be issued to citizens wishing to attend. A ticket will guarantee a seat in the boardroom available to the public.