Education

Wake schools diversity issue takes center stage again

Posted July 19, 2010 5:23 p.m. EDT
Updated July 21, 2010 2:40 p.m. EDT

— The line is drawn over the student assignment debate in the Wake County Public School System, and both sides are expected to meet Tuesday in what's been advertised as a move to stop segregation and promote diversity. 

On one side, there's a number of people, including civil rights, church and civic leaders, who believe the school board's move away from a decade-long policy of busing students will segregate schools and create pockets of poverty.

Changing the policy, they believe, will result in basically two school systems – one for the haves and one for the have-nots. That, they say, would violate every student's constitutional right to an equal education.

On the other side of the line, there is a number of people who support the board's controversial decision to move to a community-based assignment model, where students would be place in schools closer to where they live.

Advocates for the policy say it not only gives parents more choices for where their children go to school but that it also will allow more parents to be involved in their education.

The school board majority says the system now in place doesn't work when it comes to student achievement, and that the change is needed.

Members have insisted that they won't let schools be resegregated.

On Tuesday, the state NAACP, several local churches, civil rights groups and hundreds of people from Wake County and beyond plan to take the streets in downtown Raleigh and march from the Raleigh Convention Center to the State Capitol to make sure their concerns are heard.

Many of those people aren't even from Wake County – people like Gail Miller, of Louisiana, who's in town this week for a convention of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Churches.

"I don't like the idea of them segregating the schools again," Miller said Monday. "That's just not right."

For weeks – since state NAACP President Rev. William Barber and three others were arrested on charges of disrupting a school board meeting – opponents of neighborhood schools have been drumming up support for Tuesday's 10 a.m. march.

NAACP leaders say they welcome the support from outsiders.

"We think that the total community, the extended community, should be able to know what's going on," said Alonzo Braggs, with the Wilson branch of the state NAACP.

Also mobilizing, are supporters of the school board's policy.

The Wake County Republican Party is asking supporters to show up for Tuesday's school board meeting to show continued support for the board majority, four of whom were elected last fall on platforms that they would move in and bring change to the school district.

"This is simply just to show the new school board members our support and our thanks," said Donna Williams, with the group, North Wake Republicans. "We are very excited they're doing what they said they would do."

Williams says that the school system's record of student achievement isn't one that's helping students – one reason supporters and the board majority say a change in student assignment is needed.

"Fifty-four percent of minority students do not graduate. That's a failing grade. I don't think we're serving these kids as well as we could be," Williams said. "I don't see it as the mark of a successful program."

The school system currently bases student assignment on the number of students in a school who qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, which are federally subsidized and depend on family income.

The goal is to keep that percentage below 40 percent, but proponents of the new assignment policy point to studies that say the policy in place now has actually increased the number of schools with high percentages of students receiving free and reduced lunches.