The Wake County School Board voted in a 5-4 decision Tuesday night to overturn 30 years of policy designed to promote public school diversity in favor of a new policy promoting neighborhood schools.
The decision, which many in attendance regarded as a step backwards in race relations, came one day after the 56th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s historic Brown v. Board of Education decision that ended public school segregation in 1954.
The new policy highlights proximity as a key factor in determining school assignments, ending the use of socioeconomic status as a decisive factor.
Supporters of the new policy argue that low-performing minority and low-income students would do better in neighborhood-based schools and would eliminate the need for busing.
Citizens were given two minutes each to address the Board about an agenda item. Forty-one parents, teachers, and Wake County alumni signed up to make public comments.
However, Board members cut off comments after 40 minutes in order to vote. The remainder of the individuals was given a chance to address the board after all the votes had taken place.
Many speakers pointed to national research showing that neighborhood schools lead to segregated schools, creating areas of poor, low-performing schools, and areas of well-funded, high-performing schools.
Studies also show that more diverse schools tend to have higher test scores and neighborhood schools in low-income areas tend to have lower rates of parental involvement and higher teacher turnover.
Tonya Culpepper, mother of four Wake County students, encouraged Board members to listen to all sides of the issue before making a final decision.
She explained that neighborhood schools would mean poorer inner city schools in Raleigh.
“Just because a neighborhood is poorer, doesn’t mean the kids there deserve a poorer education,” Culpepper argued.
Board member Carolyn Morrison voted against the policy, saying it would be effectively “gutting the heart and soul of desegregation.”
Morrison also questioned how the system could be fair to all students and prepare them to compete globally in a diverse world if schools were re-segregated.
About fifteen people, mostly students,began raising signs and chanting after the vote was announced.
“Shut it down, no segregation in our town” the chants echoed through the board room.
David Eisenstadt, an Enloe High School student and a leader of the Student Army of Wake County, led a group of students protesting the decision.
“I want other students to have the same opportunities I have had to learn and grow because of the policy that was in place prior to tonight,” Eisenstadt said.
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