Lawsuit filed against Wake school board

Staff writerMay 6, 2010 

Raleigh police officers push their way through a crowded hallway of students at the March 23 meeting that prompted today's lawsuit against the Wake school board.

COREY LOWENSTEIN - CLOWENST@NEWSOBSERVER.COM

RALEIGH — A group of Wake County residents filed a lawsuit this morning asking the court to throw out recent votes ending the diversity policy on the grounds that the school board violated state law.

In the lawsuit filed in Wake County Superior Court, the residents say the Wake County school board violated the state Open Meetings Law by not holding the March 23 meeting at a large enough venue and by requiring people to get tickets to attend. During the meeting, the board passed by a 5-4 vote a resolution calling for the creation of community-based schools and the end of the district’s socioeconomic diversity policy.

The lawsuit asks the court to throw out the March 23 vote.

The lawsuit also asks that the court throw out Tuesday's initial board vote on changes to the student assignment policy that would make family proximity to school a priority while also eliminating socioeconomic diversity. The suit contends that Tuesday's vote has been tainted by the board's continued refusal to move meetings to a larger venue.

"This is about democracy and the way we make decisions in this country," said Swain Wood, the lead attorney for the plaintiffs.

A final board vote on the student assignment changes is scheduled for May 18.

School board chairman Ron Margiotta said the lawsuit was merely a tactic by opponents who couldn't accept that the elected board has the right to move forward.

"I think we bent over backwards to allow people to speak," he said. "If they want to just bring us into court, all this will do is take more money from the children of this county. Accept the wishes of the people of this county."

Wood said that a 2 p.m. hearing has been scheduled for the case on Wednesday in courtroom 5B of the Wake County Courthouse.

The citizens are represented by the ACLU of North Carolina, Southern Coalition for Social Justice, NC NAACP, UNC Center for Civil Rights, NC Justice Center and multiple private lawyers.

Citing security and crowding concerns, the school district had required people to get tickets for a seat in the board room.

The overflow crowd at the meeting stretched into the hallways and outside the building. Three people were arrested at a protest.

The lawsuit cites the offer by The News & Observer and Capitol Broadcasting to pay for the cost of relocating the meeting to a larger site. Citing logistical concerns, school board chairman Ron Margiotta turned down the request.

The civil rights groups representing the people filing the lawsuit had also raised concerns that day about the ticket policy.

Staff writer Thomas Goldsmith contributed to this report.

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