Education

NAACP says neighborhood schools a 'public emergency'

Posted June 16, 2010 11:23 a.m. EDT
Updated July 6, 2010 8:01 a.m. EDT

— The state NAACP says the Wake County Board of Education's move away from busing students to help balance socio-economic diversity in the school system is a "public emergency" and that the group won't stop fighting the board's "morally wrong" decision to move toward community-based schools.

"If it is necessary that we be locked up to resist policies that will lock down our children in re-segregated, high-poverty and unconstitutional schools, so be it," state chapter President Rev. William Barber said at a news conference Wednesday.

Barber and three others were arrested Tuesday evening and charged with second-degree trespassing after they interrupted the school board's meeting, locked arms and sang songs.

The "non-violent conscientious objection," as Barber called it, disrupted the meeting for about an hour.

"We love all the children of this community. We love the teachers … We even love the wayward members of the school board," Barber said Wednesday. "We love them enough to correct them, to challenge them, to pray for them. But we're not going anywhere."

Board member John Tedesco defended the board's decision to re-shape the system and said the NAACP's efforts aren't necessary.

"We're trying to work for all our children in the community," Tedesco said. "I offered the (NAACP) the hand of friendship. I offered to sit down with them, have lunch with them. I'll talk about the issues. They don't want that. They want a media circus, and I'm not going to give them that."

The Wake school system's assignment plan – which used socio-economic status to assign students to schools across the county – became a national model for districts looking to achieve balance in student populations without violating a 2007 Supreme Court decision that limits the use of race in how students are assigned.

The five board members who voted to end the policy argued there are better ways to achieve diversity in schools. They favor keeping Wake's nearly 140,000 students as close to home as possible.

Barber was joined by the three others arrested Tuesday – Nancy Petty, a pastor at Pullen Memorial Baptist Church in Raleigh; Timothy Tyson, a Duke University research scholar; and Mary Dobbin Williams, a Wake County parent.

Ending the longstanding busing policy, they fear, will re-segregrate schools and result in a high concentration of poverty, low-performing schools and high teacher turnover.

"This will undermine the education of all students, hurt the life chances of many and harm the whole community," Barber said.

Most of the 44 worst-performing high schools in the state are segregated, he said, adding that 40 of them are racially isolated, predominantly non-white schools.

"Many are segregated schools within diverse communities, in which student assignment polices are directly responsible for economic and racial isolation," Barber said. "The diversity policy is not a cure-all – and the system has inequities and problems that it does not address, but abandoning it will make things much worse."

The NAACP is mobilizing further action, he said, that will likely include more protests, as well as marches and days of community action. A community gathering, he said, has been set for 7 p.m. Monday at Pullen church.

The group, he said, isn't ruling out legal action either.

"Can a local school board that gets a majority of its fund from the state and federal government engage in actions that diametrically oppose the fundamental principle of the Constitution?" Barber said. "That's the question – and we believe they can't, and we believe they will be challenged, and we're moving forward in how we open up that challenge."