1 arrest at NC school board planning to roll back bus policy that diversifies Raleigh schools

By Mike Baker, AP
Tuesday, March 23, 2010

1 arrest at NC school board over busing policy

RALEIGH, N.C. — A tense meeting that echoed passions from an era past resulted in one arrest and a dozen others taken away Tuesday as the school board prepared for a final vote on whether to roll back a policy that buses students to achieve diversity.

“Hey, hey. Ho, ho. Resegregation has got to go,” the arrested man chanted as officers placed him in the back of a squad car.

A crowd of passionate students sitting outside the doors of the meeting chanted so loudly that it briefly disrupted the hearing during which the board listened comments on the proposal to stop busing students to schools outside their neighborhoods. Others shouted at Wake County school board chairman Ron Margiotta, who came out of the hearing to plead for quiet.

Extra police provided security for the board that governs schools in Raleigh. Dozens had signed up to speak before the final vote. The board voted 5-to-4 earlier this month to approve the proposal to keep kids close to home.

Reversing the diversity rules would follow a cascade of similar shifts around the South, and particularly in North Carolina, which once was a model of desegregation.

Racial tensions have lingered for weeks as the school board moved forward. State NAACP chief William Barber recently accusing the new board majority of having “racist attitudes” after the chairman referred to his opponents as “animals out of the cages.”

The NAACP supports the current policy that uses socio-economic background rather than race to assign students, and Barber continued to question the board’s plans during Tuesday’s meeting.

That policy, however, has never sat well with many suburban parents — often white and middle class — who argue that the student assignment plan sends their kids too far from home. And a new school board, swept into office by those vocal parents, was taking steps to scrap the plan.

Barber supports the current policy.

“It’s morally wrong. It’s legally wrong. It’s economically wrong,” he said of the proposed changes. “Your press to go backward will only serve to intensify our moral, political and legal fight to go forward. We will never go back.”

Other speakers questioned the board’s handling of Tuesday’s public meeting. The board announced the day prior that citizens would need to get tickets to attend. Mark Dorosin, an attorney at the UNC Center for Civil Rights, said the decision “violates the letter of this law.”

Bill Randall, a black congressional candidate, said the diversity program is not the root of problems among low-achieving students.

“Let this school board do what they were elected to do,” Randall said.

Wake County’s school board began its busing policy in 1999. With the Supreme Court in 2007 limiting the use of race in how districts assign students, Wake County’s policy became a model for other districts around the nation which still wanted to maintain balance among school demographics.

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