Wake County Schools

Feds to investigate claims of bias in Wake schools

Posted November 17, 2010 4:58 p.m. EST
Updated November 18, 2010 7:20 a.m. EST

— The U.S. Department of Education will look into complaints of racial bias that the state NAACP filed against the Wake County Public School System.

In a Nov. 5 letter to the NAACP and the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, Alice B. Wender, director of the District of Columbia Office for Civil Rights (OCR), wrote that the department understood the complaints and would investigate.

The letter marks only the first step in the process, she wrote.

"Please note that opening the complaints for investigation in no way implies that OCR has made a determination with regard to the merits of the complaints," she wrote.

The school board voted earlier this year to change its policy for assigning students to schools, focusing on efforts to keep them near their neighborhoods and eliminating a decade-old effort to have socio-economic diversity in each of the 163 schools in the 143,000-student system.

Rev. William Barber, the president of the state NAACP, welcomed the action in a statement issued Wednesday.

"We are pleased the U.S. Department of Education shall begin a thorough investigation of our detailed allegations against the Wake County School Board on two major issues: racial discrimination in student assignments and racial discrimination in disciplinary patterns and practices," he said.

"We look forward to working with the department, which grants millions of dollars of black, white and Hispanic taxpayers' money to Wake County each year, to ensure our money is not spent in a discriminatory manner. We will keep the public informed as the investigation unfolds."

Ron Margiotta, chairman of the Wake County Board of Education, said he does not believe there is an effort to discriminate. He said the charges were "thrown out there to cause chaos."

Barber has been a vocal opponent of board's move to change a policy of student assignment based on economic diversity and replace it with one based primarily on geographic proximity. Barber and his supporters believe a change in the policy will lead to segregation of Wake County schools and lower quality of education for low-income students.

The investigation will address two specific complaints, according to the letter. First, that the school board discriminated against "non-white" students when it voted to change the student assignment policy. Second, that the school system punishes African-American students more often and more harshly.

"Our goal is the prompt, appropriate resolution of the allegations," Wender wrote.