RALEIGH — Leaders from the state NAACP and the Great Schools in Wake Coalition urged the public Thursday to lobby for changes in the Wake County school system's new student assignment plan.
Representatives of both groups warned that the new plan, which stresses proximity and has families choose which schools they want to attend, could result in resegregation. The new plan puts into effect the policy change made by the then-Republican school board majority in 2010 that eliminated the use of socioeconomic diversity as a factor in student assignment.
"We're moving from a nationally recognized proven plan to a hypothetical plan," said the Rev. William Barber, president of the state chapter of the NAACP.
But Wake Superintendent Tony Tata, who attended the meeting, said that there are elements in place to avoid resegregation, such as the magnet schools. "We are not seeing the dramatic shift in the demographic makeup of the schools," he said.
Under Wake's old diversity policy, the district tried to balance the family income levels at schools. The most visible result of that policy was thousands of low-income families from Southeast Raleigh being bused to suburban schools.
Under the new plan going into effect for this fall, families will rank their choices from a list of schools. The first round of the application process runs through Feb. 24.
Last month, the NAACP and the Great Schools in Wake urged the board to delay the plan by a year. But the board, now led by a Democratic majority, agreed to go forward while reserving the right to make changes for this fall.
At Thursday's forum, speakers from Great Schools in Wake said the district's lack of capacity weakens the choice component. "If a school is full, there is no choice," Amy Lee said.
The new plan also includes the use of feeder patterns, which would guarantee to every elementary school student a seat at a specific middle school and high school. Lee pointed to Carnage Middle School in East Raleigh, which she said could see sharp increases in the percentage of low-income, minority and lower-performing students because of who will be feeding into them.
The crowd of about 50 people - mainly of supporters of the old diversity policy - at Martin Street Baptist Church were urged to voice their concerns.
"The plane is flying in the air, and they're still building it," said Patty Williams of Great Schools in Wake.