A Republican-controlled school board in Raleigh, N.C. has abolished a school zoning policy intended to encourage racially- and economically-mixed schools.
The Wake County School Board saw new right-wing members elected in 2009 on the platform that integrated schools are having a negative impact on students, and diversity should no longer be a priority for public schools.
“This is Raleigh in 2010, not Selma, Alabama, in the 1960s—my life is integrated,” new board member John Tedesco told The Washington Post. “We need new paradigms.”
He and his eight colleagues on the board have already approved 700 student transfers, saying children should attend schools in their respective neighborhoods. The county is roughly 72 percent White, 20 percent Black and 9 percent Latino, while 10 percent of residents live in poverty.
The NAACP has filed a civil rights complaint with the federal Department of Education, arguing the board’s plan violates laws prohibiting the use of federal dollars for discriminatory purposes. The NAACP claims the plan will concentrate poor children—who are usually minorities—in separate schools from their White, middle-class peers.
“So far, all the chatter we heard from Tea Partyers has not manifested in actually putting in place retrograde policies. But this is one place where they have literally attempted to turn back the clock,” NAACP President Benjamin Todd Jealous said in a statement.
Tedesco contends that if the new system spawns an abundance of poverty-stricken schools in the inner city, it will create a better opportunity to address those issues.
“If we had a school that was, like, 80 percent high-poverty, the public would see the challenges, the need to make it successful,” he told the Post. “Right now, we have diluted the problem, so we can ignore it.”
The plan has divided residents and generated a national discussion about diversity in schools. Some Wake County residents, like Kathleen Brennan, support the new system.
“Basically, all the problems have roots in the diversity policy,” she told the Post. “These people are patting themselves on the back and only 54 percent of kids are graduating. And I’m being painted a racist. But isn’t it racist to have low expectations?”
Clarence McClain, an African-American with a niece and nephew in mixed Wake County schools, disagrees.
“I want these kids to be culturally diverse,” he said. “If they’re with kids who are all the same way, to break out of that is impossible. You’ve got to step outside your little world.”
In an open letter, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan called the school board’s new proposals “troubling.” He said federal education officials are investigating civil rights complaints against the board.
“In an increasingly diverse society like ours,” he wrote, “racial isolation is not a positive outcome for children of any color or background. School is where children learn to appreciate, respect and collaborate with people different from themselves. I respectfully urge school boards across America to fully consider the consequences before taking such action. This is no time to go backward.”