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The fight against school re-segregation heats up in North Carolina

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wake_resegregation_protest01.jpgA thousand people marched through the streets of North Carolina's capital yesterday to protest the local school board's dismantling of a lauded student assignment policy based on economic diversity in favor of neighborhood schools -- a move many fear will lead to de facto re-segregation.

Nineteen protesters were arrested, all for nonviolent infractions and most for disrupting the the school board meeting that followed the march by holding hands, chanting and refusing to leave the podium.

The morning march through downtown Raleigh was led by the state NAACP with support from churches, student groups and civil rights organizations. Among those who spoke at the rally following the march was Tim Tyson, a Duke University historian and a board member of the Institute for Southern Studies, which publishes Facing South.

"We are snared in a historical dilemma, but we need not remain so," Tyson told the crowd.

Earlier this month, Tyson, state NAACP President Rev. William Barber, Rev. Nancy Petty of Pullen Memorial Baptist Church, and Wake schools parent and activist Mary D. Williams were banned from school property after being arrested on charges of second-degree trespassing for disrupting a meeting of the Wake County school board.

Barber and Petty were arrested again yesterday for defying the ban, which was imposed even before their cases were heard in court -- an illustration of the growing rancor between the new conservative school board majority and community members who actively oppose them.

The controversy began last year when elections were held for four of nine school board seats in Wake County, the state's largest school district. Conservative candidates backed by Republican politicians including former state Rep. Art Pope -- a businessman and director of the right-wing group Americans for Prosperity -- won all of those races, joining an ally already on the board to create a new conservative majority.

The districts where the elections were held were primarily white and suburban or rural. No seats were up in the four districts representing most of Raleigh, where the county's low-income and minority populations are concentrated, and where the board members support the diversity policy. The county's school board members are all elected from geographic districts, with no at-large representatives.

As promised, the new majority immediately set out to dismantle the diversity policy instituted in 2000. Rather than assigning students by race, which courts have rejected, the policy assigned them in part by economics, using the number of students receiving free or reduced-price lunches as a guide. The new board plans instead to divide the county into "neighborhood attendance zones" to be phased in over the next several years.

Because residential neighborhoods tend to be divided by income, there are well-founded fears that the new policy will inevitably end up limiting economic diversity. A research paper by the Wake Education Partnership -- a nonprofit launched by the local business community to support public schools -- found the plan would lead not only to concentrated poverty in some schools but also overcrowding.   

On average, students from high-poverty schools do not perform as well on assessments of reading and math, according to a recent analysis by the National Center for Education Statistics. They also have higher drop-out rates and are less likely to go on to college.

Wake is not the only North Carolina school district where there are concerns about re-segregation. New Hanover County, which includes the city of Wilmington, has been debating a redistricting plan that would focus on neighborhood schools. Last year, the state NAACP filed a federal civil rights complaint against Wayne County schools for creating a "district of apartheid education," with one attendance district in the county seat of Goldsboro almost 100% black and another about 90% white. And Mecklenburg County, home to Charlotte, adopted a "school choice plan" in 2002 that resulted in dramatic re-segregation of its schools.

And North Carolina is not the only state experiencing school re-segregation. In 1954, when the U.S. Supreme Court outlawed segregated public accommodations, the percentage of black students in majority-white schools across the South was only 0.001%, according to a 1999 report [pdf]. By 1988, when integration peaked, that percentage had climbed to 43.5%. But by 1996, five years after a Supreme Court decision allowing a return to neighborhood schools, the number dropped to 34.7%.

However, the South is doing better in terms of school diversity than big cities in the Northeast and Midwest, where schools are most segregated. Nationwide today, the portion of black students who attend what a recent report called "intensely segregated schools" is 39%.

In Wake County, the planned move away from economic diversity in schools clearly isn't going to happen without a fight. Since the school board announced its decision to end the diversity policy, a people's movement has emerged to challenge the decision, with raucous protests at board meetings and the creation of pro-diversity groups such as the Great Schools in Wake Coalition and the student-led Heroes Emerging Among Teens, or N.C. HEAT, which had members arrested yesterday.

For now, the board majority says it's undeterred by the protests and will move ahead with neighborhood schools. But this November, it will face another challenge that will be harder to ignore: elections for the county commissioners who control the school district's budget.

Democrats are already spending heavily to support candidates who back the economic diversity policy -- and Republicans acknowledge they're at a financial disadvantage because of all the money they spent on last year's school board election.

(Photo of the July 20 Raleigh protest march by Jerimee Richir, Facing South's social media director. To see more of Jerimee's photos from the march, click here. To see the mugshots of  those arrested, click here.)

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re: The fight against school re-segregation heats up in North Ca

May I remind you that there are other minorities aside from African Americans involved in this discussion. When the discussion only involves the percentage of "Blacks", it implies that the remaining percentage of students are white. In reporting this way, you misrepresent the true story.

Hispanics comprise a large percentage of the minority population, with a smaller amount of other minority students.

I just want to clarify that there are others out there in the school system besides black students and white students.

re: The fight against school re-segregation heats up in North Ca

Sue,

Shame on you for such as sensationalist headline. It should not be up to the school board to force racial harmony, in fact, its not their charter. Their charter is to ensure that the school systems are running as efficiently as possible. Busing kids across Wake County when there is a school in their neighborhood is not efficient.

The bigger picture is that the neighborhoods aren't racially diverse, but that isn't a problem for the school board to fix. If the community leaders so concerned about diversity, then why aren't they asking for diversity in the neighborhoods?

Also, where were all these people last year, when the polls were open to voting, and the candidates (who are now the majority of the schoolboard) were openly saying that they intended to do away with the current busing policy. Where were all these people then? Obviously the majority of Wake County voters see a good reason to have neighborhood based schools, because the majority of Wake County voters elected these officials.

Adults need to step back and look at why people are so opposed to neighborhood schools, and if they think that neighborhood schools are going to cause segregation, then I ask again, why aren't they doing anything about the diversity of neighborhoods?

The focus of Wake County Public Schools needs to be the education of the children. The US is constantly ranked at the bottom when it comes to education. Let them do their job, and speak to the real officials who CAN do something about diversity. Every adult.

re: The fight against school re-segregation heats up in North Ca

I thought that I had read somewhere, when this all started, that disadvantaged students at the Charlottes school system had improving schools vs prior to the change. I haven't been able to double check that. Why isn't that commented on. It almost seems like it is a subject to be avoided.

re: The fight against school re-segregation heats up in North Ca

Why should taxpayers have to foot the bill to bus students across town when there is a school within walking distance? Since when did our school systems become the source of equality and diversity? Why are our schools having to pay the price for social disharmony? Why are the battles always about race when the true enemy is political control?

Why not let children go to the schools within their own neighborhoods and if the parents don't like it, they can move. Wouldn't that be a more responsible message to give to the children rather than let the government take care of all our problems?

We are always complaining that "Big Government" is a bad thing and yet we are setting our children up to follow that very same path.

Oh, and shame on the NAACP for not only keeping racism alive, but promoting it. Children are not born racist, they are taught racism and I don't know of any other single entity that has done more damage to our children besides the NAACP.

re: The fight against school re-segregation heats up in North Ca

"It should not be up to the school board to force racial harmony, in fact, its not their charter," writes Objective One. "Their charter is to ensure that the school systems are running as efficiently as possible. Busing kids across Wake County when there is a school in their neighborhood is not efficient."

It appears Objective One hasn't actually read the mission statement of the Wake County Public School System, which says nothing of efficiency. The mission of the Wake school system is to "educate each student to be a responsible and productive citizen who can effectively manage future challenges."

Isn't one of the future challenges faced by our society to thrive amid an increasingly diverse population? How is putting kids in schools that are not economically (and thus racially) diverse going to do that?

I find it funny to hear market-worshiping conservatives talk about the need to make our neighborhoods more diverse. Could you imagine the outrage from those very quarters if Wake County or Raleigh were to adopt policies that attempted to do that?

That said, if you want to start a movement for economically and racially diverse neighborhoods, I am fully on board. I've taken my own personal step toward that by buying a house in an economically and racially diverse inner-city neighborhood. And for that I am being rewarded with a school assignment policy that will dramatically concentrate poverty in the elementary school around the corner from me -- where 90% of the students will receive free or reduced-price lunches under the new plan. Would you want to send your kids to a school with such a high poverty level?

I agree that there are problems with the U.S. education system. But what's the evidence that de facto re-segregation of our schools is a solution?

Furthermore, what is de facto re-segregation going to do to the quality of life and the economy in Raleigh and Wake County? It was the Wake school system's diversity policy -- originally promoted by local business leaders -- that prevented the "white flight" to the suburbs that decimated the economies of Northern cities. Why would we want to follow that failed model?

re: The fight against school re-segregation heats up in North Ca

I'm glad they're changing the policy, it's long overdue. Why should parents have to drive an hour to take their kids to school? Here in Ohio, neighborhood schools are the norm, and we're quite happy, thank you. Instead of busing kids all over the place, why doesn't the NAACP focus on improving the impoverished schools?

re: The fight against school re-segregation heats up in North Ca

"Oh, and shame on the NAACP for not only keeping racism alive, but promoting it. Children are not born racist, they are taught racism and I don't know of any other single entity that has done more damage to our children besides the NAACP."

Please tell me how the NAACP is keeping racism alive? And don't say by mentioning it. How has the NAACP damaged children? Has the NAACP said that Blacks are superior? Have they lynched anyone? Have they called for violence against whites? Have they excluded whites from their organization? So tired of people talking about something that they know nothing about.

Black people listen up, start looking at educating your kids on your own. Our kids need a better education for a global economy, with a specific focus on math, science, entrepreneurship and financial literacy. They will not get this at any American public school. A quick google search for "black homeschool" will put you in touch to many homeschooling resources. You don't have to be rich to homeschool!!

There are so many Black churches in our community why don't they have schools? Either every church should have a school or groups of churches could band together to form a schooling cooperative that could provide quality education for our children without groveling in front of people who clearly do not like nor want us. Stop begging for crumbs. The schools you are fighting to get into will not prepare your children anyway.

re: The fight against school re-segregation heats up in North Ca

I read a Ebony mag. the other day and some of the headlines/ articales are quite hilarious. "Black power in the white house" one of them said I beleive and the other was about 2 black female actresses who didnt get an emmy a and the articale was about working in an all white film industry or sometin like that.
I find these type of publishings like those you would find in the Black Foot Soliders. Empowering the african american (btw why are black ppl called african american? did they come stright from Africa?) when it seems only to enrage them and to overcome (the revolution will not be televised) the whites.

And yes I know Im off subject. Also, how come minorities get more money and grants than whites? Did they overcome some incredibale obseticals (to me giving them a scholarship bc they are non-white is saying "hey your dumber and have a disadvangted so heres some money for you"). And this whole affirmative action also pisses me off because employers are forced to hire a "token" (although that token maybe better than the next person, but if its for legal purposes its really gay). I wonder if there is a NAAWP.

re: The fight against school re-segregation heats up in North Ca

I have never heard of an NAAWP, but wouldn't that be really nice though... but I'm pretty sure if the White man would organize the NAAWP, you could best believe there would be so much controversy, we would never hear the end of it, it would be just like the KKK. There would be white men in court everyday, and probably be prosecuted as well for doing the same thing the NAACP pretends to do. They try to make out that the KKK are all such terrible people, not true at all the KKK has done more for our people than the NAACP has ever thought of doing for theirs. They just hollar and yell RACISM,RACISM. Wonder if that would work for us, maybe we should start yelling as well.

Annoyed

re: The fight against school re-segregation heats up in North Ca

@ Objective,

You sound incredibly naive. Don't you realize that it IS going to be their problem? If poor children have to go to local schools they're going to get a poorer education. Rich folks pay more property tax, so they get the better teachers, the better books, and more up to date equipment. Good teachers get all these phobias about working in inner city schools because they're believed to be more violent--and why put yourself in harms way when you can deal with less violent suburban schools?

re: The fight against school re-segregation heats up in North Ca

Chris, you must be white and probably a heterosexual male. With all that privilege it's a shame that your empathy hadn't allowed you any compassion.

re: The fight against school re-segregation heats up in North Ca

here here. well said,
we live here in south/central MS. I lean upon the higher powers like thinking. oh no. I concluded that ever since the civil war, the northern generals and officers have been shuving @#it down our throats, they have stolen our land and plantations to keep for themselves and handed down to their families. They implanted their own marshalls in each county following a takeover and we have been controled by the north secretivly at every angle. Our schools in the south opperate on less than half the finances the northern schools recieve, this is to make it hard on southerners to have a decent education. Southern teachers have to pay out of their own pockets for some of the poorer children because the northerners hate the southerners.