RALEIGH, N.C. — The Wake County schools are one of the best systems in the state, with test scores well above the state average. Wake officials attribute much of that success to balancing out economic diversity in the system’s schools.
The majority of board members support a policy that requires assigning students to balance schools to avoid high concentrations of poverty.
Many parents argue that the policy can prevent them from going to their neighborhood schools.
The policy is under discussion because the school board Tuesday released its plan to reassign 6,800 elementary students this year, partly to handle growing numbers of students and partly to fulfill the commitment to diversity.
Parents at Davis Drive Elementary in Cary don't want their kids moved to another school.
“We want the stability,” parent Sarah Redpath said.
“Change is difficult, and I don't minimize that,” schools Superintendent Del Burns said.
Facing growth, though, , the school system had to build new schools, Burns said. Filling them means moving students, and maintaining diversity means moving more than would be needed otherwise.
“In terms of students with disabilities, students who use English as a second language, economically disadvantaged students – we look at all of that,” Burns said.
The measure schools use to determine if students come from poor families is whether they qualify for free and reduced-price lunches. They then seek to avoid having concentrations of those students in a school.
Middle-class neighborhoods like the one around Durant elementary school have found their children bused away from neighborhood schools to keep others balanced.
“Here we are right next door to Durant year-round and Wildwood Forest, and they want to bus us all the way down Capital (Boulevard) with all that traffic,” said parent Michelle Witherspoon.
Frustrated, Witherspoon opted for a charter school instead.
“I feel in my heart that they're doing the best they can, but it's impacting each of us personally and our kids,” Witherspoon said.
The superintendent and a majority of board members say they feel that the school system and the community would suffer without the economic balance.
“Then we'd fall into a situation where you have schools that are ‘have’ schools and ‘have not’ schools,” Burns said. “That does not help a community. it doesn't help kids and it's not something I want to be a part of.”
In an ironic twist that contrasts with Tuesday’s protests, the school system is also taking a hit for not keeping schools well-enough balanced.
The Town of Garner has threatened to hold up renovation projects on two schools unless the school system lowers the number of students receiving free and reduced-priced lunches at schools in the town.