RALEIGH — Amid heated accusations of possible resegregation, community members of Wake County schools' student assignment committee on Tuesday proposed reassigning thousands of Southeast Raleigh students to schools closer to where they live.
Republican school board members Chris Malone and John Tedesco said the Southeast Raleigh moves are only logical given the Oct. 5 vote by GOP member Debra Goldman and the board's four Democrats to quash a zone-based assignment plan that was being developed by Tedesco. After that vote, Malone said, the remaining guiding principle became a policy adopted in May that eliminated diversity as a factor in assignments while stressing stability, proximity and family choice.
"We're going to turn the system into a true neighborhood system," Malone said. "By taking away the zones, they took away of lot of flexibility."
Committee members' proposals would reassign 6,078 students, many of whom now live in Southeast Raleigh but attend other county schools as part of the discarded diversity policy.
But the moves are not official yet. They would have to be discussed by the full school board, where Goldman could again emerge as the swing vote.
The student assignment committee is made up of nine members appointed from the community and three school board members - Tedesco, Malone and Carolyn Morrison, a Democrat.
Effects of proximity
The strict use of proximity as a factor in assignment could not only result in concentrations of high-poverty students in some schools, but also would reduce the availability of magnet slots in many of the same schools, according to opponents of the proposed reassignments. Magnet schools, mostly located in low-income areas, were designed to fill low-attendance facilities and to balance school populations based on socio-economic diversity.
More than 3,000 of the students proposed to be moved could be reassigned to magnet schools closer to their homes. The suggestions, made by three student assignment committee members who were appointed by GOP school board members, largely call for moving children who live in Southeast Raleigh out of the schools they now attend in North Raleigh, Garner and western Wake.
"I do not want to see all those high-poverty schools created and no diversity at all in the rim schools," said Morrison, referring to schools between downtown and outer suburbia. "It's going back to resegregation, and it's very intentional in my opinion."
If the neighborhood approach results in high-poverty schools in Southeast Raleigh, Malone said, those who are concerned would need to talk to Goldman and the Democrats. Goldman, who has stopped granting media interviews, did not return calls for comment Tuesday.
Tuesday's fight was the latest battle over the role of diversity in Wake, the state's largest school system.
Board members have deadlocked on developing a long-term assignment model that would carry out the new policy. Goldman joined with Democrats on Nov. 9 to adopt a plan to follow a consensus-building approach.
The school board members who want a zone-based assignment policy don't appear to be waiting for a long-term plan to make changes. Tedesco said the board "no longer values those long bus rides" that were part of the old diversity policy.
"It's pretty clear that if we're going to be consistent with policy, sending nodes from WakeMed on [U.S.] 64 on the eastern side of Raleigh to Apex is a far cry from proximity," Tedesco said.
Three community members of the student assignment committee - David Williams, Tracey Noble and Ann Rouleau - walked into Tuesday's meeting with a lengthy list of changes they want school administrators to consider incorporating into the plan.
"This is the policy that was voted on the board," said Williams, who is Tedesco's member on the assignment committee. "This is what we have to live by now."
The community members appointed by Democrats didn't propose changes Tuesday. Instead, they sharply questioned the proposed Southeast Raleigh moves.
"The bottom line is what's best educationally for the children," said Anne Sherron, a community member appointed by Morrison. "I don't think arbitrarily moving children is the end-all."
Sherron warned that the new moves could get Wake in more trouble with federal investigators. The U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights is investigating a complaint from the NAACP that alleges racism from a number of moves made earlier this year to send Garner High students to Southeast Raleigh High.
"We've got lawsuits staring at us," Sherron said. "We need to consider that before we do this."
She and community member Anne Cooper, who was appointed by Democratic board member Anne McLaurin, also argued that parents are expecting only minimal moves next year from a plan that is designed to fill one new school.
Tedesco cautioned that the community members' recommendations are many steps away from becoming reality. But he added that the recommendations are in keeping with Republicans' long-standing promises of neighborhood schools.
"Ultimately, 'Get the kids closer to home,' is what we've been saying," Tedesco said.
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