Board takes final step to drop diversity in assigning students

The Wake County school board voted 5-4 Tuesday for a controversial policy that ends the school system's longstanding practice of busing students to help achieve diversity in schools.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — After several last-ditch efforts to keep diversity a factor in deciding how to assign students to Wake County schools, the Board of Education voted Tuesday to adopt a controversial policy that moves away from the district's longstanding practice of busing.

A crowd of opponents jeered, shouting "Hey, hey. Ho ho. Resegregation has got to go," following the 5-4 vote that means the district will place students in schools based on where they live rather than socioeconomic status.

That, however, is still a long way off. A committee will work over the next 9 to 15 months on how to implement the policy.

Opponents, including the state chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, have promised a legal fight. They argue that such a "racial discriminatory policy" will not only segregate economically disadvantaged students but also keep them from receiving the same quality of education as more advantaged students.

"Do not cause us to be segregated,” parent Jonica Rowland said.

Others have predicted that the community-based assignment model will create pockets of poverty and result in low-performing schools and high teacher turnover.

"What happens here is having and will have an impact on the national educational policy ," the Rev. William Barber said in a statement. "We will use every means of direct action, legal, political, in the streets and in the suites, to fight for a constitutional, diverse, high-quality education for every child."

Supporters, however, maintain segregation will not happen and that the plan will allow for more stability for students, allow for more parental involvement and give parents more choices.

Board member Carolyn Morrison, one of four board members who have consistently opposed the plan, asked the board to postpone action indefinitely rather than drop diversity.

Her suggestion was voted down 5-4, but Morrison asked later if the vote could cause the school system's application for federal funds for magnet school to be out of compliance with federal rules. She asked again that the vote be put off until board attorney Ann Majestic could review that question. That motion, too, was rejected.

Keith Sutton said he hoped to appeal to a different side of the board.

"All board members want what is best for children," he said. "What I do want to underscore is the need to have an assignment policy that is fair and inclusive."

No child should be left behind, regardless of race, income, location or needs, Sutton said. He added that diversity is not the cause of problems the system has, but it "is being blamed" and being eliminated.

Research shows that racially and economically diverse schools do better for students, he said.

Member Anne McLaurin said she opposed the policy, but would vote for it if an amendment said the system will not allow the policy to cause segregation, and no school would have greater than a 50 percent low-income population.

"We need to focus on all, all, all students," member John Tedesco said. The district has told some poor students they cannot go to their neighborhood schools, "and I don't think that's fair."

Tedesco earlier questioned the use of 50 percent rather than "60 percent or 52 percent" or another number.

Hill said a study of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools had shown that 50 percent was "about the break-even point" beyond which high-poverty schools could not have high student achievement.

Majestic cautioned that setting a race balance for schools could be seen as setting an illegal quota, and Sutton suggested changing the rule to no more than 50 percent "poor or minority" students.



Kelly Gardner, Web Editor

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