04/07/10 — District responds to NAACP complaint

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District responds to NAACP complaint

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on April 7, 2010 1:46 PM

A complaint filed against Wayne County Public Schools in December by the NAACP alleging resegregation and unconstitutional practices is now in the hands of the Office of Civil Rights, officials said.

Both the NAACP and school officials said they are confident in the process, and optimistic that the matter might be resolved without going to court.

The district has complied and provided all materials requested, said Dr. Craig McFadden, assistant superintendent for accountability/student services.

"It's been straightforward by-the-book standard operating procedure," he said. "We have worked with OCR for 20 years. ... They're very professional, very methodical, very thorough."

The school system was notified in early December of the complaint, then provided with a copy of the document, McFadden said.

"They scheduled a meeting (with us) a couple weeks ago, basically going over what types of data they would want, which again is another stage in their process," he said. "We're in the process of getting data that they requested."

Among the documentation requested were school improvement plans for each school, which McFadden said were immediately provided during the state's initial visit to the central office. Maps, test scores and other data were to have been collected and submitted late last week.

A large portion of the information was also accessible through the state's Department of Public Instruction, added Ken Derksen, public information officer for WCPS.

But it's still been a time-consuming few weeks.

"They're very, very thorough," McFadden said. "It takes a lot of time, involving the whole leadership team. It's a large data-gathering process.

"I have worked with OCR for 20 years. Many times it's been part of my job description."

With the first phase wrapped up, it is uncertain how long it will take before any type of decision or resolution is announced.

"They typically take a couple of months," McFadden said. "If they need anything else, they'll come back and ask us."

The NAACP also has a long-held relationship with the OCR, said the Rev. William Barber, president of the state NAACP. As such, the organization has had no problem filing these types of complaints, when deemed necessary.

Barber said he has always been impressed with how the OCR has handled such cases.

"It's an intense type of investigation," he said. "I know they'll do a strong investigation, and we're just waiting to see how that process will develop."

At the outset, the NAACP said the complaint was being filed after exhaustive measures to remedy problems with the local school system had been unsuccessful.

Part of the problem centers around policies believed to contribute to discrimination while the area still receives federal funding. Not only is that morally wrong, Barber said, it's also constitutionally wrong.

"It's not just an issue of black students sitting beside white children," he said. "Segregation and resegregation was always about resources and equity."

What the courts have traditionally looked at in cases like this, Barber said, is the amount of money spent on white children and black children, as well as a comparison of schools and any inequities therein.

Barber said he takes issue with the selectivity of diversity in a city like Goldsboro where the city council, Board of Education, county commission and even military base are all composed of a mixed representation.

And yet the central attendance area -- which has been slowly "shrunk" so that it does not include most of the people who actually live there -- virtually mirrors the status initially held more than 55 years ago.

"We have 99.9 percent resegregation in that attendance zone," he said. "In 1954, it was 100 percent."

There has been a time when the area was more diversely represented, he noted, specifically the mid-1970s and 1980s.

The NAACP has devised a list of five factors essential to a fundamental commitment to school excellence.

The list includes making a commitment not to be segregated and to promote diversity; working toward equity in resources, teachers and books; having high quality teachers and small classrooms; more emphasis on math and science, history and reading; and taking a look at parental involvement and the issue of high levels of suspensions.

"Diversity is not a cure-all, but it's a necessary commitment for reaching all the other four components," Barber said.

The Office of Civil Rights is an impartial mediator, Barber said, with an added bonus -- it applies the constitution and adheres to the standard of the law.

"They look at the inequities," he said. "In essence, what you have happening in Wayne County, and may end up happening in Wake County, is schools that want to take integrated money -- that's everybody's money, black people's money, white people's money, Hispanic people's money -- and foster resegregated schools. You can't do that."

Barber's group has also threatened taking similar action in Wake County, where the school board recently voted to change its policy favoring community schools.

"We're watching everything they're doing. We're having a mass meeting on May 17 to lay out our strategy and why we stand for the children," he said. "We believe in Wake County that they are racing to the bottom. It's such a glaring contradiction of where we will go.

"We're going to stay vigilant."

The outcome of the latest complaint remains uncertain, but both sides remain resolute.

McFadden said there have been at least four complaints brought against the school system since the county and city merger in the 1970s -- some individual and some against the district as a whole -- and each time the district was cleared of any wrongdoing.

"Most of this we have done before," he said. "They (OCR) have a good deal of authority, they can shut off federal funds. It's never come anywhere near that."

But as far as Barber is concerned, it all boils down to what's best for the children, all children.

"The Justice Department will go back and look at all these other complaints that have been filed over the years," he said. "They'll review the totality of the history in terms of where we are and that's a good thing because that's an objective review."