Parents' backing unwanted

Staff WriterApril 5, 2004 

Well, we knew it was coming. I actually expected it sooner than this.

But now that the Wake County school system has unveiled its biggest reassignment plan ever, the school-choice nonprofit group Assignment By Choice appears ready to make its big litigious move.

Cynthia Matson, the president of the group, said last week that ABC is seriously considering a lawsuit against the Wake schools over the reassignment plan.

And given that it was a legal battle that opened the door to the resegregation of schools in Charlotte, I know Wake County officials are bracing themselves for a fight.

What really slayed me, though, about Matson's remarks regarding the lawsuit was her proposed line of attack: focusing on the "discriminatory" reassignment of hundreds of low-income students to year-round schools against their will.

I tried to imagine it: the mostly white and middle- to upper-middle class members of ABC coming to the rescue of the poor, mostly minority students being forced to attend year-round schools.

To Keith Sutton, president and chief executive officer of the Triangle Urban League, this would be funny if it weren't so potentially harmful.

"We didn't ask them [to assist us]," said Sutton, whose organization is a voice for African-Americans in the Triangle. "We don't need them. And we don't particularly want them."

"It's kind of obvious," said Sutton. "They're hoping to use minority and low-income children to get the attention and make their bigger mission more attractive to more people."

Which is not to say that there aren't any low-income parents out there angry about their children being reassigned to year-round schools in the 'burbs.

A year-round schedule would pose additional challenges, and possibly expense, for working parents, Sutton said.

Money for child-care during year-round vacation periods needs to be made available, he said. Wake needs to make sure that students who are shifted into year-round schools are given the same academic and athletic opportunities that those with full summers off receive.

But those are issues that need to be addressed as the entire county makes what Sutton thinks is an inevitable shift to all year-round schools.

Sutton said he and others in the black community are quite capable by themselves of advocating for policies that serve the interests of minority and low-income children.

Indeed, Sutton said he thinks ABC is merely using the low-income children to cover for its members' concerns about their own children being reassigned.

"They're basically pimping us," he said.

Sutton said he'll be curious to see whether ABC finds a poster child for its legal endeavors in Southeast Raleigh.

He hopes it doesn't come to that.

"We certainly would not welcome a lawsuit that might undermine Wake County's long commitment to diversity," Sutton said. "It would be so divisive in the community."

So, to Matson's offer of a lawsuit to the rescue, Sutton has a simple response:

Thanks, but no thanks.

Ruth Sheehan can be reached at 829-4828 or

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