NAACP lodges a complaint

School board is accused of racism

Staff WritersMarch 6, 2010 

— The state NAACP filed a complaintFriday accusing the Wake County school board majority of racism, while also defending the NAACP leader's characterization of the school board as a communist dictatorship or the Mafia.

In the complaint, the NAACP alleges that the newly elected majority on the board has used secret meetings and support from private-school boosters to push for a "racist" change in eliminating a busing system that has provided diversity in Wake County for decades.

The complaint also accuses the five-member majority of racism, citing board chairman Ron Margiotta's calling people "animals" at the board meeting Tuesday. The NAACP also contends that the majority's call for "neighborhood" schools is a euphemism for segregated schools.

"If the chair ... feels comfortable in openly deriding people of color ... without fear of ostracism from his caucus, we can infer the entire caucus must feel free to express similar derogatory and racist attitudes toward people of color in their secret meetings," the complaint says.

Margiotta said "here come the animals out of the cages" on Tuesday after the crowd booed Bill Randall, a black conservative who spoke in support of ending the diversity policy. On Thursday, Margiotta said he was "out of line" to make the statement. But he also questioned how racism could be alleged when he made the comment in responding to how a mostly white audience was treating a black speaker.

Debra Goldman, a member of the board majority, denied the allegations made in the complaint and said it doesn't help the children in Wake.

"It's an attempt at distraction, and it's so wrong onmany levels," Goldman said.

The Rev. William Barber, head of the state NAACP, faced questions Friday over telling a reporter that Margiotta conducted Tuesday's board meeting like a dictatorship or the Mafia. Barber dismissed any parallel between his Mafia comment and Margiotta's labeling of angry citizens as animals.

"My comment is not even comparative to what Margiotta said," Barber said. "I believe he's unfit. He shouldn't be chair, not with this kind of attitude."

"As African-Americans, we know this language of comparing people to animals," Barber continued. "In this country, black people couldn't even be baptized because they were considered animals."

Members of the NAACP stood behind Barber's Mafia comment.

"[Those words] speak the truth, and that's as simple as that," the Rev. Nancy Petty of Raleigh's Pullen Memorial Baptist Church told reporters at state NAACP headquarters in Durham.

NAACP attorney Al McSurely said white people, especially elected officials, have to take extreme care not to offend, even by accident.

"It's a devil's dance that we have to do every day, because this area is sensitive still," McSurely said. "[Margiotta] doesn't even have a college degree. They've got clowns running this school board. That's from the heart."

After graduating from high school in the 1950s, Margiotta enlisted in the Coast Guard. He later took college courses at St. Peter's College but did not complete his degree. He started his own window-treatment installation business in New Jersey.

John Tedesco, a member of the board majority, said it's "deplorable" for Barber to accuse the board members of racism. "Every element of my life is integrated," he said. "This is the biggest disappointment and heartache in my life to be considered in that manner."

The NAACP also accused the board majority of undermining the authority of Superintendent Del Burns, who has announced his resignation over the busing plan.

Accreditation impugned

The board has scheduled another closed session for Tuesday that is expected to focus on whether to remove Burns before his scheduled resignation June 30.

The NAACP has asked the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, which provides accreditation for Wake's middle and high schools, to investigate the complaint.

"They can say, 'You better straighten this up, or we're going to yank the accreditation,'" McSurely said.

Jennifer Oliver, a SACS spokeswoman, said most schools in the South have accreditation and that losing it could affect students applying to college. But that would come only at the end of a long process in which the district would try to resolve any violations, she said.

"It would be very unusual for a school system to lose accreditation," Oliver said.

jesse.deconto@newsobserver.com or 919-932-8760

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