Education

Attorneys say Wake school board is violating meeting laws

Posted March 23, 2010 11:54 a.m. EDT
Updated March 23, 2010 2:05 p.m. EDT

Wake County Public School System

— The Wake County Board of Education's decision to limit the number of people attending its meeting Tuesday afternoon quickly drew ire from critics.

The school system said Monday that it would issue tickets to people wanting to attend the board's open meeting because of security and safety concerns. A video feed of the meeting would be provided for those who aren't able to get inside the meeting, the school system said.

WRAL-TV and The News & Observer offered Tuesday afternoon to pay for the board to move the meeting to downtown Raleigh in the Fletcher Opera Theater at the Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts.

School Board Chairman Ron Margiotta described the offer as "generous" but declined it, school system spokesman Michael Evans said. The board meeting was already posted, and there was no time between meetings to change locations, Evans said.

“It is unfortunate that more people will not be able to be in person at an open board meeting," Steve Hammel, WRAL-TV's vice president and general manager, said in response.

A number of attorneys sent a letter to Margiotta on Tuesday morning, saying that the ticket plan would "unfairly prevent many parents and other members of the public" from attending, which violates the state's open meetings laws.

"As a political subdivision of the state of North Carolina, the board exists solely to conduct the people's business, and, as current chairman of the board, you have a duty to ensure that all hearings, deliberations and actions of the board be conducted openly," the letter says.

The letter was signed by attorneys for the UNC Center for Civil Rights, the state chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina, the North Carolina Justice Center and other groups.

The decision to require tickets comes as the school board is poised to hold a final vote on a controversial resolution to begin planning for a new assignment policy that focuses on community-based schools.

The idea has been a contentious one, drawing emotional response from supporters and opponents, because it would replace the school system's policy of busing students to achieve socioeconomic diversity.

Opponents have argued that a move away from the current policy would segregate poor students and put them at a disadvantage when it comes to the quality of education they receive.

School board members in favor of the new assignment model have argued differently. Planning and study of the model would take nine to 15 months, they have said.