Thursday night's community mass meeting at Martin Street Baptist Church dealt with Wake County's new student assignment plan, getting mediation for the school board protesters and assailing the conditions at Walnut Creek Elementary School.
As noted in today's article, most the focus of the meeting led by the state NAACP and the Great Schools in Wake Coalition was on complaints about the assignment plan. The crowd of around 50 people, mainly supporters of the old diversity policy, were urged to contact school leaders to change the plan.
"If you let the plane fly in the air and you don’t make those course corrections that you feel need to be made in order to make it a more successful plan for all students so we have a fair and diverse and well-funded education for all students, then shame on us if we don’t advocate for the changes to make it happen," said Patty Williams of Great Schools in Wake.
The Rev. William Barber, president of the state NAACP, said Wake is "moving from a nationally recognized proven plan to a hypothetical plan."
Barber charged that Superintendent Tony Tata hasn't answered the concerns the NAACP had raised with him at a meeting last year, including:
* Clarifying the percentage goals of minority, poor and low-performing students at each school,
* Data showing that other urban school systems have implemented choice plans that "have maintained greater success than Wake County,"
* An analysis showing the new plan is "empirically better" than the former socio-economic diversity student assignment plan,
* Data showing how the plan will increase or reduce the number of high-poverty, low-performing or racially identifiable schools in Wake.
"We have too much experience, expertise to just trust when it comes to our children," Barber said. "We need facts. We need data."
Williams and Amy Lee of Great Schools made presentations on the plan.
Williams charged that there's not enough capacity to properly have a choice plan. Click here for GSIW's fact sheet on capacity.
Williams cited the example of Daniels Middle School, which she says can hold 405 sixth-graders. But she says the feeder pattern has 431 sixth-graders guaranteed slots and 58 other people who have requested a seat.
Williams said that, based on growth, there could be 519 sixth-graders in Daniels' feeder pattern in 2018.
Tata, who attended the meeting, told reporters that GSIW isn't taking into account that people will request to leave the feeder for schools like Daniels.
Tata said he was prepared to answer questions during the meeting. But the Rev. Earl Johnson, pastor of Martin St. Baptist and president of the Raleigh-Wake Citizens Association, publicly asked school officials not to speak during the meeting. He said they wanted to let the crowd speak.
As a result, Williams and Lee answered questions raised by the audience.
Lee raised concerns about the feeder patterns. Click here for the GSIW fact sheet on feeders.
Lee said the plan "will strand" some 1,100 students who aren't set to get transportation for this fall. She cited the example of Lead Mine Elementary families whose feeder has them going into Carroll Middle but who won't get transportation because Carroll isn't on their choice list
Lee acknowledged that the school board is looking at the issue.
Lee then brought up the feeder impact on Carnage Middle, where the feeder students entering sixth-grade are projected by Great Schools to increase the percentages of F&R and African American students to over 50 percent and also drop the performance composite by 10 percent.
“We’re starting the pathway to resegregation of our schools," Lee said.
Lee also said that the plan appears to be moving some magnet schools below the percentage of magnet students they're supposed to have. She cited Carnage and Centennial Middle as examples.
The first person during the Q&A period was Doris Justice, one of the protesters arrested at the school board meetings in 2010. Click here for her January letter to the editor expressing her dismay about not being able to speak at school board meetings or continue being a school volunteer because her trespassing charge is still pending.
"I was arrested for speaking at the school board for my opinions on holding on to diversity and equal-opportunity education for children," Justice said to applause.
Later on, Lynn Edmonds of Great Schools went up to the podium to give the group's "official position" on the issue of mediation or trials for the protesters.
“We do not support the trials for the protesters that were arrested during that period," Edmonds said. "We strongly support mediation rather than trials."
Johnson asked Justice to come back up to the microphone.
“This is who we are standing up for," Johnson said as Justice received more applause. "People who had the nerve to stand up for what they believed in, who went to jail. We think that is only fair that mediation would take place and that the slate be wiped clean.”
Johnson said he's urging people to show up at Tuesday's school board meeting to ask the board to reconsider its position on mediation. He said he's praying for "a change of heart" among the board members.
"I feel that I didn’t do anything wrong," Justice said to more applause."I have the right to speak. I am a law-abiding person.”
“If I had to do this over again, I am going to continue to stand up for what I know is right," Justice also said, to even louder applause.
Among the questions asked by the crowd was one from Beverley Clark, a former school board member now active in Great Schools.
Based on how many students change schools during the year, Clark questioned whether the new plan will cause these children to miss class while their parents go through the choice process. She said that at least with base schools they'd just start at the new school once they moved into the attendance area.
Later on in the meeting, the discussion turned to the situation at Walnut Creek Elementary. Barber said they're updating their Title VI civil rights complaint with more information on the crowding situation at Walnut Creek.
Barber said that opening Walnut Creek with so many students who were low performing violated the Leandro ruling.
“It’s tantamount to making something sick and then promising that we’re going to make it well," Barber said. "It was an experiment to try to prove that you can make resegregated schools work.”
Based on the comments, some additional details might help. Here is what the Rev. Earl Johnson specifically said after the Rev. William Barber opened up the floor for questions.
"Let me just lay some ground rules," Johnson said. "If you have q question, step up to the mike here and we'll answer questions for you. We're going to ask the superintendent and the school board members to kind of refrain from asking questions and giving suggestions tonight. We just really want to hear from the public tonight. But you all are welcome to stay and talk to the media and us when this is over with."
After the meeting ended, Tata and school board members talked with the public. Tata also spoke with the media. The three new Democratic school board members were at the meeting.
Tata was late to the meeting because he had been attending the school board economically disadvantaged student performance task force meeting that was going on nearby at Hunter Elementary. But some staff members were there for the start of the meeting, including Cris Mulder, who is in charge of the outreach efforts for the new student assignment plan.