Education

Police remove six from Wake school board meeting

Posted August 10, 2010 8:28 p.m. EDT
Updated August 11, 2010 10:34 a.m. EDT

— Two teenagers were among six people arrested after they were removed from the Wake County Board of Education meeting during the public comments portion Tuesday.

The group was protesting the board's move away from the school system's current student assignment plan, which buses students in an effort to try to balance socio-economic diversity.

Seth Byron Keel, a 16-year-old junior at Middle Creek High School, spoke briefly from the podium in favor of the diversity policy.

"I am here today because diversity is important in my life,” Keel told the board.

As the buzzer rang to mark the end of the two-minute public comment limit, Board Chairman Ron Margiotta asked Keel to leave the podium. "I think not," Keel replied, adding, "I cannot in good conscience leave the podium."

A group of people surrounded him, locked arms and chanted in subdued voices, "What do we want? Justice. When do we want it? Now."

Raleigh police moved from the back and sides of the room to the group, cuffed Keel, and walked the group out of the meeting room where they were arrested.

Each was charged with second-degree trespassing. They are: Keel, of 2431 Lullwater Drive in Raleigh; Samuel "Sam" Cole Matthews, 16, of 701 Valerie Drive in Raleigh; Graham Marshall Buckner, 18, of 2116 Windy Woods Drive in Raleigh; Gayle Santi Matthews, 47, of 701 Valerie Drive in Raleigh; Carolyn Veronica Billings, 71, of 3340 Harden Road in Raleigh; and Doris Hill Justice, 73, of 1209 Bishopton Way in Knightdale.

"I think it is a matter of social justice,” Billings said after her arrest.

Billings' daughter, Gayle Matthews and grandson, Sam Matthews, were among those also arrested.

"It is interesting to have three generations going to jail all together,” Sam Matthews said.

Some board members expressed their disappointment over the protests.

"I think that is just very sad, I see a young man like that and I don't know if he realizes what he is doing with his life and his record,” board member Deborah Prickett said of Keel's arrest.

"I am sorry it happened, they spoke well, and they mean well,” board members Anne McLaurin said.

The arrests are the latest in a series of confrontations between the board majority, which has moved toward assigning students based upon geography, and opponents who prefer the diversity-based assignment policy in place for the past decade.

Protesters say a change in the policy will lead to re-segregation in the school system, create pockets of poverty, and result in low-performing schools and high teacher turnover. Advocates neighborhood schools believe that option gives parents more choices for their children's schooling and opportunities to be more involved.

Three weeks ago, 19 people, including the Rev. William Barber, president of the state chapter of the NAACP, were arrested during a Wake school board meeting.