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Thursday, March 25, 2010

Bev Perdue Oks Segregated Schools, Ignores Margiotta's Racist Remarks

Gov Bev Perdue On Wake County Schools New Anti-Diversity Policy

Gov. Bev Perdue weighed in on the Wake County diversity debate – sort of.

Asked this week about the Wake County Board of Education's decision to end busing for socioeconomic reasons in favor of neighborhood schools, Perdue seemed to favor the old system, reports Rob Christensen.

"I am speaking as a mother and a grandmother," Perdue said after a news conference at Rex Hospital to announce a Medicaid anti-fraud effort.

"I really do believe that kids do better in a situation that prepares them for real life," Perdue said. "And real life has children who are from all economic levels."

Perdue said students should learn to live with people of other backgrounds.

"I hate busing. I know that is hard for people," Perdue said. "The bottom line for me as to be sure that every kid in every neighborhood in North Carolina, regardless of where they live, is actually able to go to a school that works and can help them be career or college-ready."

The governor doesn't have any direct influence over local assignment policies.

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Wake County Diversity Supporters Play Offense

The new Wake County school board majority's plan to abandon the use of socioeconomic diversity will be fought every step of the way by groups that vow to block efforts to implement neighborhood schools.

Supporters of Wake's diversity policy say they're not deterred by the board's 5-4 vote Tuesday to end decades of busing for racial and income diversity in favor of sending children to schools in their communities. The leaders of the largest opposition groups say they plan to scrutinize every step that the board will take over the next nine to 15 months to develop the new system, from lobbying the public to potentially taking legal action.

"We will work to fight their efforts to end socio-economic diversity," said the Rev. William Barber, President of the NC NAACP, on Wednesday. "We will use every legal and moral tool at our disposal."

The calls of defiance were countered with calls for community unity from supporters of the board majority. They urged supporters of the diversity policy to work with the board in developing the details of the new assignment model, which would divide Wake into community school zones.

"The time for fighting is over," said Kristen Stocking, a founder of Wake Schools Community Alliance, a parent group that raised money during the fall campaign to elect four Republican-backed board members.

"The process will move forward over the next few years whether they like it or not. This is the will of the voters."

In addition to intense scrutiny from opponents, the board's majority will deal with challenges such as how the new community-schools system will be implemented during a time of tight budgets and the expectation of renewed student growth. The board also will have the challenge of deciding where to set the boundaries for each zone and what to do with magnet schools.

Since the mid-1970s, racial or socioeconomic status has been a key factor in school assignments for students, who now number about 140,000. The use of socioeconomic diversity for the past decade has won Wake national recognition.

Supporters of the diversity policy had argued that the policy helped the district avoid assigning high proportions of students from low-income families to district schools, which can lead to lower test scores and high teacher turnover; those factors can discourage businesses from moving into the area. Critics argued that the policy allowed the district to hide the poor academic performance and graduation rates of students from low-income families.

As the Tuesday vote neared, the lobbying efforts of supporters of the diversity policy increased, with a candlelight vigil Monday and predictions of re-segregation Tuesday. The board's actions were booed by some in the crowd, with a few protesters creating such a disruption with their chanting that they were arrested.

Supporters of the board said Wednesday that histrionics need to end and that talk about re-segregation is overblown.

"Lay down your candles and your songs and give them breathing room," Patrice Lee, a founder of Wake CARES, a parent group that backs the board majority, said Wednesday at a news conference.

Kathleen Brennan, another Wake CARES co-founder, said "the time for threats, name-calling and dire consequences is over."

But Barber said the NAACP won't give up no matter how long it takes to restore the diversity policy. He noted that it took 58 years for the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse its earlier decision that separate but equal was legal.

Yevonne Brannon, chairwoman of the Great Schools in Wake Coalition, which backs the diversity policy, pledged Wednesday to put the new board's plans under the microscope. She predicted that public backlash, which the group will try to heighten, and budget woes will derail the majority's efforts.

"I have faith in the community," Brannon said. "Their core values are stronger than the core values of the five. The community will not let the board vote stand."

But there was at least some talk of conciliation from groups that back the diversity policy. The Raleigh-Wake Citizens Association, a leading local civil rights group, passed a resolution last week in support of maintaining economic diversity. But Dan Coleman, the group's president, said the board's vote "hopefully presents all of us an opportunity to strengthen all of our families and communities as we move forward together."

"The RWCA stands ready willing and able to work with our Board of Education in crafting a new assignment policy that causes all communities to be high functioning and engaged communities," Coleman said.

Tumultuous Session Ends Wake County Schools Diversity Policy

During a tense marathon meeting, the Wake County school board voted to stop busing students for diversity, then cemented that action by taking the first steps toward a community-based system of student assignment.

With a 5-4 vote Tuesday, the Republican-backed board's majority ended more than three decades of having racial or socioeconomic status be a prime factor in school assignments for students, who now number around 140,000.

Instead, they agreed to start assigning students closer to home, even if the change creates more schools with high concentrations of students from poor families. Board member John Tedesco, point man for the resolution, said the system already allows for high numbers of high-poverty schools.

"This gives us our direction now," said Tedesco, who will chair the committee that will split the county into community school zones, a blueprint that will take up to 15 months to develop. "We're now going to community schools. This will give parents more stability."

While the plan for the new community zones is months from completion, the school board majority quickly solidified its vote by making student reassignment decisions showing they're no longer considering diversity.

The board approved measures in the reassignment plan for this fall that would send hundreds of students to schools closer to their homes. In the process, some diversity-related moves made by the old board were reversed.

After nine long hours

The diversity decision came nearly nine hours into a tumultuous day. Chairman Ron Margiotta and his four allies beat back amendments by opponents on the board who didn't want to pass the resolution without more study, more research and more information on its cost.

"If this is going to stand the test of time, it could stand the test of a work session," said opposition member Kevin Hill.

The majority agreed to an amendment by Dr. Anne McLaurin, another opposition member, that inserted language from the state constitution that guarantees all North Carolina children "an equal opportunity for a sound basic education."

Then, member Carolyn Morrison put the majority in the position of having to vote on "a plan that ensures that schools will not become segregated." Ultimately, the majority didn't support Morrison's amendment.

"The eyes of the nation are upon us," Morrison said.

Tedesco sharply disagreed with the charge that ending the diversity policy will lead to re-segregation. "That doesn't happen today. The fact is, the laws of the state of North Carolina and the Federal Government are sufficient to make sure that does not occur."

During a public comment period, police removed more than 20 people, mostly in their teens and early 20s, who sat in the hallway outside the meeting room and pierced the proceedings with loud chanting: "No Re-Segregation in our town! Shut it down!"

During a public comment period before the full board, about 75 percent of the speakers voiced opposition to the resolution that would lead to fundamental change in the way students are assigned.

Civil rights lawyer Julius Chambers, former director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, joined those who urged the board not to abandon its commitment to diversity.

"We are now re-opening a lot of issues and a lot of problems," said Chambers. "I hope you pause a moment and think about the problems you might be creating for the children and the parents you serve."

No Coercion, she says

Wake County parent Debbie Griffith Overby said she loves Wake's diversity, but doesn't believe in making students attend schools for that reason.

"I'm against forced busing," Overby said. "This is the United States of America. People should not be forced in Wake County to do anything they don't want to do."

Before the resolution passed, administrators in the morning work session said that they had already eliminated the use of socio-economic diversity in filling nearly all the magnet schools this year. In the absence of diversity, priority was given to applicants who had siblings in magnet schools or who were applying from crowded schools.

Previously, priority was also given to applicants from more affluent areas who could help create balance at schools in poor areas.

Only at the Wake Early College of Health and Science, where the goal is to attract prospective first-time college applicants, will diversity be used to pick applicants.

Administrators say 4,589 of the 7,670 magnet applicants, or 60 percent, were placed. Traditionally half or less are accepted.

Keeping cash flowing

Administrators warned that the board will need to act within a month to adopt a voluntary de-segregation plan to keep receiving Federal magnet grants. The diversity policy had been used for previous applications.

The new plan could come in the form of a resolution pledging to keep schools De-Segregated.

National NAACP President Calls For Ron Margiotta To Resign

The national NAACP is now joining the call for Wake County school board chairman Ron Margiotta to resign following his "here come the animals out of the cages" comment at last week's board meeting.

In a press release today, national NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous said he's joining the state NAACP in calling for Margiotta's resignation as board chairman. He said Margiotta's comment was 'racially insensitive."

“The racial insensitivity exhibited by Mr. Margiotta underscores the lack of consideration for the interests, needs, and concerns of Blacks and other racial and ethnic minorities in North Carolina,” said Benjamin Todd Jealous in the press releae. “We support the North Carolina NAACP in their call for justice and sensitivity in Wake County, and believe the resignation of Mr. Margiotta is a necessary step in that direction.”

Last week, the Rev. William Barber, president of the state NAACP, had said Margiotta was "unfit" to be chairman. Barber used the remark as part of the complaint filed last week with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

Margiotta has said he was "out of line" for the remark. But he's denied it had racial intent. He's pointing out that he was upset that a mostly white crowd was booing a black speaker for criticizing the diversity policy.

Here's the press release:


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NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous joined the North Carolina NAACP State Conference in calling for the resignation of Wake County School Board Chairman Ron Margiotta based on comments made by Margiotta the organization deems racially insensitive. In a recent public school board meeting, Margiotta referred to several stakeholders of color as “animals out of their cages.”

“The racial insensitivity exhibited by Mr. Margiotta underscores the lack of consideration for the interests, needs, and concerns of Blacks and other racial and ethnic minorities in North Carolina,” said Benjamin Todd Jealous, President and CEO of the NAACP. “We support the North Carolina NAACP in their call for justice and sensitivity in Wake County, and believe the resignation of Mr. Margiotta is a necessary step in that direction.”

Margiotta’s comments come in the midst of a contentious and racially charged battle over proposed changes to Wake County school district busing policy that will effectively re-segregate the county’s school system. While the battle for good jobs, good schools and economic solutions continue statewide, North Carolina NAACP State Conference President Rev. Dr. William Barber II asserts that attitudes like that of Margiotta will only increase the divide between people of all races who are affected by the surrounding social conditions.

“The vivid imagery evoked by Mr. Margiotta of uncaged wild animals takes another step toward dehumanizing African Americans while trivializing our concerns,” said Barber. “The racial undertones present in Mr. Margiotta’s comments stand to undermine cohesiveness between racial groups at a time when it is most needed as we work together to achieve a better North Carolina for all.”

Founded in 1909, the NAACP is the nation's oldest and largest civil rights organization. Its members throughout the United States and the world are the premier advocates for civil rights in their communities, conducting voter mobilization and monitoring equal opportunity in the public and private sectors.

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Sources: WRAL, McClatchy Newspapers, MSNBC, Youtube, Google Maps

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