Raleigh Marchers Fight 'Re-segregation' Plan

Marchers took to the streets of Raleigh, N.C., Saturday, Feb. 12, 2011, to protest a radical plan to change where students go to school in the state?s largest district.
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Marchers took to the streets of Raleigh, N.C., today to protest a radical plan to change where students go to school in the state's largest district.

The Wake County School Board wants to end consideration of a student's race and socioeconomic group in making school assignments. Today's march was the latest skirmish in a year-long and very emotional battle.

Three decades ago, Raleigh's schools were combined with those of its suburbs, and today the system is a national model for how to create diversity in the classroom.

Because of that, though, students in the district can travel up to 30 miles to a magnet school in a different neighborhood.

Still, the school board's own survey found just last year that more than 94 percent of parents were satisfied with the way things are.

But a new, more conservative school board has moved to do away with the program, to end the use of race and socioeconomic factors in schools assignments, and replace it with a system of neighborhood schools intead.

The protesters on the streets of Raleigh today said that will resegregate schools instead.

"When you want to dismantle that, based on political ideology, not based on educational research, there's something real wrong about that and we have to challenge it," said North Carolina NAACP President William Barber, who was among the marchers.

"That's why blacks and whites and Latinos, people of all economic backgrounds are saying we don't want to go backwards, we want to go forward," Barber said.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has criticized Wake County's proposed changes, and a complaint has been filed with the education department's Office for Civil Rights.

The school board, for its part, is looking to those parents who don't want their children to go too far from home. The board also points out the savings that would come from putting an end to busing.

The protesters on the streets of Raleigh today, however, said they believe more people agree with them.

"We have people here from across the country," NAACP President Ben Jealous said. "People have driven in, from as far away as DC to the north and Georgia to the south, who have flown out from California. Because they realize so goes Wake, so goes this country."

On Friday, the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce and the Wake Education Partnership presented the school board with a compromise proposal that would give parents some choice of where their children can go, and would include academic performance as one factor in balancing schools.

Whether that plan meets with general approval, march organizers say they will continue the vigilance come election day. More than half of the school board is up for re-election in November.

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