Update: Click here to listen to the audio of the oral arguments before the 4th Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals.
Issues of student assignment, magnet schools and selection of school sites played out before a federal court panel Wednesday as arguments were heard over the new Wake County school board election lines.
As noted in today’s article, the left-leaning plaintiffs charge the General Assembly drew up the new lines in an unconstitutional attempt to dilute the influence of Democratic voters inside the Raleigh Beltline to help elect a conservative school board majority. Student assignment is repeatedly mentioned in the briefs filed by the plaintiffs.
“Plaintiffs’ also alleged facts which demonstrate why they are harmed by the imbalanced districts,” Anita Earls, executive director of the Durham-based Southern Coalition For Social Justice and attorney for the plaintiffs, writes in her brief. “At issue is whether they will have an equal footing in which to elect candidates that share their views about student assignment policies.”
Similar sentiments are raised throughout the document.
“Plaintiffs point to the favoring of rural and suburban voters in underpopulated super district B, which forms an outer ring around the entire county and includes voters from the very northernmost reaches with those in the southern border of the county as an improper governmental purpose.” Earls writes. “This has implications for important policy issues such as socioeconomic diversity in school assignment policies, where new schools are built, and the extent to which the Board will seek to establish neighborhood schools as a criterion for student assignment.”
“The Plaintiffs in this case assert that partisanship, along with a desire to favor rural and suburban voters, and to promote conservative school assignment policies, was one impermissible cause of the population deviations among election districts established by S.L. 2013-110, and that it is an arbitrary and discriminatory taint that cannot justify those deviations,” Earls later writes in the brief.
The issue was brought up again in the brief the plaintiffs filed in response to the state’s brief.
“Disputes over attendance zones, school siting decisions, the locations of magnet or other specialized programs and even bus routes are all issues of great concern to parents and voters when deciding who they want to represent them on their local board of education and each of those issues is significantly impacted by geography,” Earls writes in the response brief. “Where a voter lives matters for school board issues just as it does for statewide issues.”
In contrast, the state repeatedly says in its brief that the case is “a political dispute between differing political groups and apparently differing social and educational philosophies.” The state says that the “plaintiffs’ remedy, if any, must be found at the ballot box and not at the courthouse.”
“Plaintiffs’ Complaint alleges that the design of the challenged school board districts was politically motivated,” Senior Deputy Attorney General Alexander Peters writes in the state’s brief. “Political motivation simply does not present courts with a question they may consider. Recognizing this, the district court properly dismissed plaintiffs’ claims.”
Peters quotes how the plaintiffs say that the “only goal that the new plan accomplishes is to further Republican interests and advance conservative agenda policies policies – over the wishes of the Wake County electorate.”
“Actions of a politically elected body that attempts to further ‘Republican interests and advance conservative agenda policies—over the wishes of the Wake County electorate’ – succinctly encapsulates the essence of the political process,” Peters writes. “In elections, someone wins and someone loses.”