Tedesco's comments called degrading

The school board member's dating history is said to take 'attention off the real issues.'

Staff WriterJune 29, 2010 

— A Wake County school board member's decision to invoke his dating history to defend his opposition to the district's discarded socioeconomic diversity policy is drawing complaints from opponents.

School board member John Tedesco said he had a "few ex-girlfriends who were African American and Latino women" in a letter last week to the Rev. Nancy Petty, pastor of Raleigh's Pullen Memorial Baptist Church, and to the media.

"My whole life has been integrated, my family, friends and relationships," said Tedesco, who is white, in an interview Monday. "Every single aspect of my life has been integrated."

Tedesco, who will be chief architect of the new plan that will assign children to schools in their neighborhoods, has found himself under fire on a number of fronts by supporters of the diversity policy that was recently dropped by the school board's ruling majority.

Calla Wright, president of theCoalition of Concerned Citizens for African American Children, which has criticized the board majority, said Monday that the implications ofTedesco's statements were "degrading to black and Hispanic women."

"This is a means of taking the attention off the real issues," Wright said of Tedesco mentioning the race of his former girlfriends.

Tedesco said he sent the letter last week in response to Duke University historian Tim Tyson's accusing Tedesco of not understanding the needs of poor and minority families. Tyson, Petty, state NAACP head the Rev. William Barber and activist Mary D. Williams, were charged with trespassing after taking over the June 15 school board meeting.

Tedesco has stressed his own experiences of growing up in poverty to argue that he better understands the needs of low-income students in Wake.

In the letter, Tedesco writes that one of his former girlfriends, whom he didn't name, is a local African-American professor who helped shape his policy views and still serves as an adviser. He also mentions having an African-American godson

Wright wasn't impressed by Tedesco's explanation.

"He says things that sound great but the decisions he makes don't serve to educate all children," Wright said.

Tedesco accused his opponents of focusing on the letter while ignoring issues such as Wake's high suspension rate and low graduation rate for poor children.

"They're searching for anything they can find about me and it's sad," Tedesco said.

Enloe renaming

Tedesco has also drawn criticism for floating the idea of renaming William G. Enloe High School and for saying that the school board's neighborhood schools plan reflects the spirit of the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, which ended legal segregation.

But amid growing complaints from Enloe supporters, Tedesco said Monday it's unlikely the board would rename any school unless they found something "horrid" about the person whose name the school bears.

"I can't imagine that we'd change the name of a school at this time," Tedesco said.

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