RALEIGH — Security is being tightened for what's expected to be an emotional vote today by the Wake County school board to scrap the socioeconomic diversity policy in favor of neighborhood schools.
Turnout is expected to be higher than for the board's meeting March 2, when there was a standing-room crowd, accusations of racism were hurled at the board and one speaker was nearly arrested.
Measures being taken today include extra police, admission tickets to limit the crowd and physical barriers around the board. Security officials said that people who arrive early and leave the building before 3 p.m. will have to surrender their tickets and lose their place.
"We have to be concerned about safety," said Chairman Ron Margiotta. "I'm not concerned about myself, but I have concerns for other board members and for members of the public. God forbid if someone couldn't get out if there's a fire."
The measures angered Yevonne Brannon, chairwoman of the Great Schools in Wake Coalition, which backs the diversity policy. Brannon called them "atrocious" and an "embarrassment."
"The message is go away, stay away, we're not interested in hearing what you have to say," she said.
The board is scheduled to give final approval to a resolution calling for the end of Wake's nationally recognized policy of trying to limit the percentage of low-income students at individual schools. The resolution calls for sending students to schools in their communities.
Supporters of the resolution argue that the diversity policy hid the poor performance of low-income students. Opponents argue that the resolution will lead to resegregation of schools.
On March 2, more than 100 signed up to speak. Speakers on both sides of the resolution were booed and jeered.
Joe Ciulla, a leader of the Wake Schools Community Alliance, which backs the school board majority, said both sides acted badly.
"I hope tomorrow's meeting will be better than the last," Ciulla said. "I'm worried that someone will do something drastic."
Administrators said the measures announced late Monday were an attempt to "ensure a safe and orderly environment, as well as to comply with fire safety standards."
People who want a seat in the board room will need a ticket, though people who want to speak will be allowed in temporarily without a ticket. The 150 tickets will be distributed beginning about 10:30 a.m. for the 3 p.m. regular meeting, according to Michael Evans, a schools spokesman.
Evans said the Raleigh fire marshal raised concerns about people obstructing fire exits. He said the same concern is why only staff and media members will be allowed inside the small board conference room for today's budget work session and committee of the whole meeting, which take place before the regular meeting.
The public will be able to watch a video feed of the work sessions in the main board room.
Protecting the board
In the main board room, administrators said, barriers will be erected around the dais where board members sit, to prevent the public from walking up to them. Debra Goldman, the board vice chairwoman, said the barriers will help protect confidential paperwork on members' desks.
There will be four law enforcement officers at the meeting, compared with two March 2. Police officers hadn't been at school board meetings before this month.
Opponents of the resolution are expected to turn out in large numbers today. But supporters say the vote is only a formality, so they're not planning to compete.
"It's time for the community to accept the school board elections and the school board's vote," said Dallas Woodhouse, state director of Americans for Prosperity, a conservative group that backs the board majority.
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