Wake County Schools

NAACP backs use of lunch data for student assignment

Posted March 12, 2011 5:38 p.m. EST

— The NAACP, the lead organization in a challenge to the Wake County Public School System policy of student assignment, issued a statement Friday backing the district's long-standing use of subsidized lunch information as a means of determining student socio-economic status.

For 10 years, the school system attempted to achieve a balance across the county so no individual student body had more than 40 percent students who got the federal aid, using it to determine whether students should be bused to maintain socio-economically diverse schools.

In 2010, the board of education voted to change a policy of student assignment that emphasized diversity in favor of one that uses proximity in determining where students go to school. 

The NAACP is challenging that change and filed a complaint with the U.S. Office of Civil Rights requesting an investigation of the board's actions. That investigation is scheduled to begin next week with interviews with members of the school board's Student Assignment Committee, Superintendent Tony Tata and other district staff.

No matter what the investigation yields, lunch aid data cannot be used as a factor in student assignment, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has said.

Rev. William Barber, president of the state NAACP, called the USDA's conclusion "a misinterpretation of the law and of how data is being used."

The USDA wrote, in letters to the state Department of Public Instruction and school board attorney Ann Majestic, that because student assignment is considered a local education program, the law prohibits the school system from using any information related to free- and reduced-price lunch data.

Majestic wrote, "It seems the board could not continue with its past practices, even if it wanted to."