NAACP set for legal action against schools

Wake's policy gets national notice

Staff WriterSeptember 21, 2010 

  • The state NAACP has scheduled a 9 a.m. event Saturday at Christian Faith Baptist Church, 509 Hilltop Dr., Raleigh, that will feature an appearance by national NAACP President Benjamin Todd Jealous. The event is open to the public. Call 833-5834 for more information.

— National NAACP President Benjamin Todd Jealous will be in Raleigh on Saturday for what's being billed as a major announcement on legal action against the Wake County school system for its new student assignment policy.

The Rev. William Barber, president of the state NAACP, said his organization and its allies will "unveil the first legal strategies challenging resegregation" in Wake and other school districts in North Carolina. Although few details are being provided ahead of time, Anita Earls, executive director of the Durham-based Southern Coalition for Social Justice, said a written complaint will be presented Saturday.

"This is a major step forward," said Earls, one of the attorneys working on the complaint. "This will be something in writing that will take place."

The presence of Jealous, a leading civil rights figure, will serve to give opponents of Wake's move to neighborhood schools even more national attention.

Jealous has previously spoken out on the situation in Wake. He had called in March for Ron Margiotta to resign as chairman of the school board for having said "here come the animals out of the cages" at a school board meeting.

Margiotta has called his remark "inappropriate," but he said there was nothing racial in it because he was responding to a black speaker being jeered by a mostly white crowd.

Margiotta said he wasn't worried about Jealous coming to Raleigh or whatever would be announced Saturday. "I don't know how they can institute a suit for anything we're doing," Margiotta said. The school board majority that took office Dec. 1 eliminated the long-standing policy of balancing enrollments to try to avoid having overly high concentrations of poor children at individual schools.

In preparation for legal action against the school system, Barber said a team of lawyers was convened from the N.C. Justice Center, the NAACP, the UNC Center for Civil Rights, the Southern Coalition for Social Justice and Legal Aid of North Carolina.

Orage Quarles III, president and publisher of The News & Observer, is on the board of directors of the N.C. Justice Center.

In this battle, both sides say they're speaking out for the children. Margiotta said the school board won't let the legal threat "deter us from doing what we think is best for children."

"We've never said the system was perfect," Barber said. "But socioeconomic diversity linked to student achievement shouldn't be cursed."

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

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