Wake student assignment policy passes first of two votes

Posted May 4, 2010 4:07 p.m. EDT
Updated May 4, 2010 11:48 p.m. EDT

Wake County Public School System

— Wake County Board of Education members voted in favor of controversial policies Tuesday having to do with student assignment and the public's conduct during meetings.

(Read more about Tuesday's school board meeting.)

The board voted 4-3 for a new policy that eliminates diversity in student populations as a goal for assigning students to school. It was the first of two required votes to shift from the decade-old policy of trying to not have more than 40 percent of any school population from poor families.

"We value using a parental-choice model to encourage (diversity) as opposed to a forced-busing model," school board member John Tedesco said.

The decision brought one shout of "bunch of bigots" from the small audience that had remained through a long closed-door session to see the vote.

School board member Anne McLaurin said that schools in low-income neighborhoods will miss out if other students go to school in their own neighborhoods.

"That creates schools that are economically disadvantaged, and that re-segregates our schools," McLaurin said.

In an earlier 4-3 vote, the board struck down a substitute policy proposed by board member Keith Sutton, which included diversity as a goal.

"I see no effort on the part of my colleagues to meet us halfway," Sutton said later, noting the new policy "doesn't protect all students."

Board Vice Chairwoman Debra Goldman, who voted for the community assignment model, said she supports diversity in schools.

"I also believe we don't have to manufacture it. I believe that it exists here in Wake County inherently," Goldman said.

The board voted unanimously on a second policy that says public speakers "should" not make personal attacks against board members or other speakers.

An earlier version of the policy had said speakers should be "required" to stick to comments about policies and board actions and avoid personal attacks.

Meetings in recent months have brought verbal attacks on some board members, and the list of speakers has been long since the board took up efforts to move the school system away from a goal of school diversity and toward community-based assignments.

"Virtually everything I've heard" in recent months at board meetings "would be protected" as free speech under the policy, attorney Ann Majestic told the board. She predicted the order would almost never be used.

During a committee meeting earlier Tuesday, Goldman said that, although criticizing board members' work was within bounds, attacks on their personal lives were not.

The goal, she said, is "to draw the line between actions of a board member as a board member and personal" attacks.

"For me, this is a tight-rope balance," said Tedesco, who has been a target for verbally attacks for his leading the effort to change the student assignment policy. "Let them say whatever they want about me ... than limit their right to free speech."