12/02/09 — NAACP says complaint was unavoidable

View Archive

NAACP says complaint was unavoidable

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on December 2, 2009 12:15 PM

The state NAACP has filed a complaint against Wayne County Public Schools alleging resegregation and unconstitutional practices.

The Rev. Dr. William Barber, state president of the NAACP, said the complaint was filed Tuesday with the U.S. Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division and the state Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights. Earlier that morning, he held a press conference announcing the lawsuit.

School officials were taken aback by the announcement and reserved comment, stating they had not seen a copy of the complaint.

Barber said legal procedure required the NAACP to file the complaint with the two governing bodies first, and they in turn would contact school officials. That was one reason for the press conference, he said, to offer up a summary of the complaint.

The NAACP is involved in the case on the local, state and national levels, and plans to travel to Washington, D.C., next week to discuss the issues with officials in the national organization. After that, the full complaint will be made available, he said.

The group is seeking redress on five grounds:

* End perceived segregation in the Wayne County Schools

* Ensure equity in funding and facilities for all schools in the county

* Focus curriculum on science and math

* Ensure high quality teachers in all classrooms

* Energize parental involvement in education.

The bottom line is about doing what's right for the children, Barber said during the press conference.

"This is not an emotional issue. It's not just a parental issue," he said. "This is a constitutional issue."

He said the problem is nothing new within the local district, but has been bandied about for years, to no avail.

"Most often, we don't have real change until we have change that's mandated by groups or organizations that have legal authority, like the courts," he said.

The NAACP gets "no pleasure" from filing a complaint against the school system, Barber said during an interview Tuesday evening. But after years of getting nowhere in discussions with the Board of Education, he said the time has come for action.

Racial imbalance in the central attendance area is of particular concern, he said.

"Whatever the issues, you can't deny 100 percent resegregation, that's just a fact," he said. "It is time for us to do some very, very serious hard ground work."

Barber said school board members who have said that they are doing all they can to address the concerns have shown "a blatant disregard for what the real issues are."

He added that the NAACP will also consider pursuing the complaint through the same state constitutional grounds that led Superior Court Judge Howard Manning to declare that some schools were not living up to the mandate that each child in the state deserves the right to the same quality education, no matter where they live.

"This is a matter of constitutionality, not of emotion," he said.

While limited in their ability to respond, several from the school district did comment on the issue.

Ken Derksen, public information officer for Wayne County Public Schools, took issue with some of the allegations contained in the complaint.

"We don't have 'black districts' and 'white districts,'" he said. "You can't redistrict based on race. You can't bus students based on race, because that's unconstitutional. Therefore, we have to teach the students in the communities that those schools are located."

Regarding census information that the city of Goldsboro is 50/50 black/white, Derksen said the majority of the white families in the central attendance area no longer have children in school, "and the ones that do, they're either sending them to private school or home-schooling."

Without access to the formal 12-page complaint, Derksen said school officials remain confident in the local efforts toward providing a quality education.

"We have worked with the Office of Civil Rights and Judge Manning, and believe that our policies and practices in place ensure that children get a fair and balanced education," he said. "It's a state and national issue. There's not a district across the country that's not working to close the gap. ...

"We're still waiting and we're really kind of limited in how we can respond. We don't know what practices or policies they're questioning. It really does make it a challenge to respond to, (but) the bottom line is the city, the county, we have worked with the community. There's a lot of positives going on."

The subject was not raised during Tuesday evening's school board meeting, but was alluded to during board comment.

Board member Shirley Sims said, "There are some folks who say it should have happened a long time ago, but who's going to pay that bill? Who's going to pay all the legal expenses? The taxpayers."

Ms. Sims also expressed displeasure with the way the board learned about the complaint.

"We got the word that there was going to be a suit filed against us. They did not even have the courtesy to notify the superintendent or any of us," she said. "We were not even thought enough of to get a courtesy call that such and such a thing was going to happen. We had to hear it through the grapevine."

No matter what the situation, it usually boils down to two things, she said -- you're either part of the problem or part of the solution.

"I don't care who you are or where you are from," Ms. Sims said. "I hope these people would think again about what they're doing. It's taking your time away from what you could be doing to help these children. There's no winning in these things."

Dr. Steven Taylor, superintendent of schools, put it more simply -- "Everyone is entitled to their opinion."

"But I will say this -- I know our heart is in the right place. We care about all children in the school district and we're constantly looking for ways to improve. Every school has its own set of challenges, but we're proud of all of our schools and the success they have been able to achieve."

The district works together as a family, Taylor said, and has done a "good job" of preparing students for college or the work force. And of course, it can always do better, he added.

"But it does take all of us working together," he said. "We have the board working together, staff, teachers and everyone working together to make that happen.

"Regardless of the hurdles thrown before us, we're going to continue to have school and we will respond if we need to. But I'm proud of what we have been able to accomplish and the relationships that we have. I'm proud of this effort and this school district."