NAACP files federal complaint against North Carolina school district over its elimination of student assignment plan based on socio-economic factors
The North Carolina chapter of the NAACP (NAACP-NC) has filed a complaint with the federal government against Wake County Public Schools (WCPS) in an an effort to block the new school board majority from moving forward with assigning students under a neighborhood zone system that would replace a diversity-based plan, says the News & Observer. The NAACP charges that the board’s decision to abandon the former student assignment plan in favor of one based on neighborhood schools will result in resegregation of WCPS. Joining the NAACP as parties in the complaint were the youth group N.C. HEAT (Heroes Emerging Among Teens) and Quinton White, a high school senior who was reassigned by the school board this year.
The suit claims WCPS has violated Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which prohibits institutions that receive federal dollars, such as school districts, from engaging in discrimination (on the basis of race, color or national origin). According to Wendy Parker, a Wake Forest University School of Law professor and expert on civil rights law, the federal government rarely declares that institutions are violating Title VI. She noted, however, that because of the national attention the Wake fight has received, it’s likely that officials will investigate and put more of a spotlight on the situation. “This investigation is not something they’re going to put on the back burner,” Parker said.
The NAACP-NC also used Title VI to file a federal discrimination complaint in December against the Wayne County school system (NC). Federal officials are still investigating the Wayne County complaint. WCPS’ board is already facing a wide-ranging special review of its policy decisions, including its elimination of the diversity policy, from AdvancED, the Georgia-based organization that accredits Wake’s high schools. That review was also generated by a state NAACP complaint. Now investigators from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) may also come to Raleigh in response to the new federal complaint.
NAACP-NC bases its complaint on three legal arguments. First, it claims that the school board-approved reassignment changes for this school year were based on the race of the students and thus “intentionally discriminatory.” Second, the NAACP contends that the new student assignment model, which is loosely based on current high school attendance boundaries and divides the county into 16 zones, will segregate schools and deny students of color access to educational opportunities. Third, it asserts that Wake suspends and expels a disproportionately high percentage of black and minority students.
The new board majority has acknowledged that the district was suspending too many students and is overhauling the discipline policies. The federal complaint culminates months of threats of legal action by NAACP-NC president Rev. William Barber. He also warned that the state chapter still may file a lawsuit in addition to this federal civil rights complaint.
Source: News & Observer, 9/26/10, By T. Keung Hui
[Editor's Note: As the article notes, the NAACP-NC has instigated an investigation into the accreditation of WCPS's high schools. According to an August News & Observer report in Education Week, WCPS's high schools are at risk of losing their accreditation unless the school board majority can justify all the major decisions it’s made since December. The article stated that AdvancED will be conducting a sweeping review of the school system this fall in response to a complaint filed by the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP. A summary of the article is available at the first link below.
Meanwhile earlier this month, the Wilmington Journal reported that a member of the New Hanover County Public School Board, which has implemented a neighborhood student assignment plan similar to the one at WCPS, has asked two state legislators to "work to overturn” a provision in North Carolina law that could cost the New Hanover County Public Schools (NHCPS) over $765,000 in state funding if it’s found that the board’s current policies contribute "…to increased segregation of schools on the basis of race or socioeconomic status.” A summary of this article is available at the second link below.]