Diversity supporters urged to work with school board

STAFF WRITERMarch 24, 2010 

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Wake CARES members Kathleen Brennan, left, and Patrice Lee thanked the Wake County School Board majority members for their vote on community-based student assignment, which will stop busing students for socioeconomic diversity. The group had a press conference in Apex Wednesday morning.

TAKAAKI IWABU — TAKAAKI IWABU - tiwabu@newsobserver.com

— Leaders of a parent group that back neighborhood schools urged supporters of the diversity policy to stop fighting and back the new Wake County school board majority's efforts.

During a tense meeting on Tuesday that saw angry words and arrests, the school board gave final approval to a resolution that would stop busing for socioeconomic diversity in favor of sending students to schools in their community.

But the reaction today from supporters of the diversity policy was one of continued anger over the school board majority's actions.

In a press release today, the Great Schools in Wake Coalition accused the board majority of moving to a create a system of "have" and "have not" schools. The group said that the board ignored "the overwhelming body of conclusive national research on the negative effects of high poverty schools."

“Every single person in our county - whether they have a student in the school system or not—will personally feel the pain of this decision," said Yevonne Brannon, chairwoman of Great Schools in Wake. "The greatest loss will be experienced by each of our students, who will be ill prepared for the diverse workplace that lies in their future.”

Amid all the heated rhetoric, the leaders of Wake CARES held a press conference today to thank the board and to urge the opposition to work with the new majority.

"Lay down your candles and your songs and give them breathing room," said Patrice Lee, a founder of Wake CARES.

On Monday, supporters of the diversity policy held a candlelight vigil in opposition to the resolution. During Tuesday's board meeting, protesters chanted so loudly inside and outside the school system's headquarters that three people were arrested.

Over the next nine to 15 months, the school board will develop a plan that would divide the county into community assignment zones. Lee and Kathleen Brennan, another founder of Wake CARES, urged the other side to work with the board in developing the new assignment system.

"The time for threats, name calling and dire consequences is over," Brennan said.

Supporters of the diversity policy had complained that community based schools will lead to resegregation and the creation of extremely high poverty schools. But Brennan said the current system needed to be changed, pointing to the low test scores and graduation rates for poor children in Wake.

Wake CARES was formed in 2007 to fight the school system's plans to convert 22 schools to a year-round calendar. The group, heavily based in western Wake, filed a lawsuit that was ultimately decided in 2009 in favor of the school system.

The state Supreme Court ruled that Wake had permission to assign students to year-round schools without the permission of their parents.

But even though the school system won the court battle, anger over mandatory year-round schools and the diversity policy helped fuel last fall's election of candidates who helped form a new majority on the school board.

Since taking office Dec. 1, the new board has passed a resolution that effectively ends mandatory year-round schools and now a resolution that would dismantle the diversity policy.

"Thank you for making education a top priority," said Allison Backhouse, a leader of Wake CARES, to the school board.

keung.hui@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4534

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