Wake schools protesters plead guilty; pledge continued fight
Posted March 2, 2012 11:57 a.m. EST
Updated March 2, 2012 6:41 p.m. EST
Raleigh, N.C. — Twenty-one people who were arrested at four Wake County school board meetings two years ago – including state NAACP President Rev. William Barber – pleaded guilty Friday to second-degree trespassing charges stemming from protests of the district's new student assignment policy.
All 21 pleaded guilty under a first-offender program requiring 40 hours of community service in exchange for having their record expunged, Assistant District Attorney Steven Saad said.
They have until Sept. 5 to complete the service and pay $430 in court costs and other fees.
Nine others charged in the protests have a court date for March 16.
Barber, Rev. Nancy Petty, of Pullen Memorial Baptist Church in Raleigh, and Duke University professor Timothy Tyson were among those who brought a June 15, 2010, school board meeting to a standstill when they spoke for more than 20 minutes and took over school board members' seats during a subsequent recess.
Petty and Tyson also entered guilty pleas Friday.
"We have said all along that however these matters were handled, it would be OK, because our goal was to keep constant focus on working in Wake County and across this state and national for educational equality – which is a constitutional right of all children," Barber said Friday.
At the time, the protesters opposed the school board's controversial decision to eliminate a decade-old busing policy for diversity purposes in favor of one that allows parents to choose schools closer to their homes.
Barber said that he is still concerned that schools could be segregated because of the new assignment plan – even though school system officials have said they will not allow it to happen.
"Until every single child in Wake County and in this state, for that matter, gets their constitutional right to have a good education, we will stay on this path to justice," Petty said. "It may lead us back here again."
Despite their pleas, all 21 are still barred from school property, including board meetings.
School board Chairman Kevin Hill said that they can petition the panel to be allowed back on property, but that they must promise to abide by the board's rules regarding public participation.
"I'm glad the defendants were given the option of community service and that they'll be able to have the charged dropped," Hill said.
Board member John Tedesco said their punishments were appropriate.