Education

Opponents rally against Wake schools assignment plan

Posted July 6, 2010 9:51 a.m. EDT
Updated July 6, 2010 5:32 p.m. EDT

— "Our children are being used as tools of division," proclaimed NAACP state chapter President Rev. William Barber in a passionate speech Tuesday in downtown Raleigh.

Leaders of the North Carolina NAACP and African Methodist Episcopal Zion Churches of the eastern district spoke out to encourage other civic, religious, parent and student groups take part in a mass demonstration against the planned policy change that they say will lead to resegregated schools in Wake County.

The group is protesting the school board’s decision earlier this year to move away from a system where students are bused to help balance socio-economic diversity across the school system in favor of assigning students closer to home.

"Diversity is a tool of racial and economic justice," Barber said. "We know that diversity of our schools makes our schools stronger."

Barber has called the plan a "public emergency" and said he won't stop fighting the board's "morally wrong" decision.

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 argue there are better ways to achieve diversity in schools. They favor keeping Wake's nearly 140,000 students as close to home as possible.

"The whole purpose of these assignment zones that we're developing is to give choice. That's the big word," Wake school board Chairman Ron Margiotta said. "Parents will have a great deal of choice in the schools that their children attend."

Other board members point to studies that say the cold socio-economic policy actually increased the number of schools with high percentages of students receiving free and reduced lunches.

Barber disagrees.

"If this school board was serious about student achievement, the five of them would leave diversity alone," Barber said, in referring to the board majority who are backing the policy change.

Barber was followed Rev. Nancy E. Petty, pastor of Pullen Memorial Baptist Church, Yvonne Brannon, chairwoman of Great Schools in Wake Coalition, some Wake County students and members of the state General Baptist State Convention.

Each speaker ended with a call for supporters to gather at 10 a.m. July 20 at the Convention Center for a mass protest in advance of the scheduled meeting of the Wake County Board of Education that day.