Wake school opponents trade insults

The NAACP holds a news conference Friday

March 5, 2010 4:57:55 PM PST
The debate over diversity in the Wake County school system hit a new low Friday with both sides bickering over name calling.

North Carolina NAACP President, Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, called a Friday morning news conference to announce his group is filing a complaint with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Council on Accreditation and School Improvement for what Barber called racist attitudes on the school board - including something Wake County School Board Chair Ron Margiotta said during a public comment session at a school board meeting Tuesday night.

That night, as Bill Randall - a black conservative - finished speaking in favor of a diversity policy change, there was loud disagreement voiced by some in the standing-room-only crowd.

"Here come the animals out of the cages," Margiotta said in a low voice that was picked up by the microphone in front of him. A clip of Margiotta's comment was quickly posted on YouTube.

Barber said calling opponents "animals" was not only derogatory, he said it had racial implications.

"The Wake County School Board Chair, Ron Margiotta is not only leading the implementation of a racially discriminatory policy that will produce racially identifiable and high poverty schools, and destroy a nationally recognized student assignment plan that supported diversity in Wake's public schools, he has now been caught on tape calling those with divergent opinions 'animals,'" said Barber in a news release.

At Friday's news conference, an NAACP attorney did a little name calling too - referring to board members supporting change as "clowns."

Margiotta, and board majority, supporters were quick to come to their defense with a barrage of e-mails sent to media outlets Friday morning.

Dallas Woodhouse, North Carolina Director of American's for Prosperity, wondered if Barber would apologize for comparing Margiotta and his board allies to the mafia - Margiotta is of Italian descent.

Meanwhile, a statement sent out by the Wake Community Network blasted the Reverend Curtis Gatewood, 2nd Vice President for the North Carolina NAACP, for calling Margiotta a "white racist" at the raucous Tuesday night meeting.

"If you want to go to hell, don't expect to take our children with you," said Gatewood to the board Tuesday night as authorities approached to calm him down.

Wake Community Network labeled Gatewood's comments as "hateful and divisive rhetoric."

"Gatewood clearly attempted to create a media situation and provoke his arrest by officers," it charged.

Margiotta quickly apologized after Tuesday's board meeting for his "animals" comment saying he was out of line.

Barber told reporters at his news conference Friday that he did not intend anything racist by his mafia comment, but he stopped short of apologizing.

Critics of both sides say the heated rhetoric and acting out seen at recent Wake County School Board meetings is not producing a thoughtful and reasoned debate about the future of the school district. The new majority on the board - elected last fall on a neighborhood schools platform - passed a resolution Tuesday night that moves to end the district's policy of busing students to ensure economic diversity in favor of neighborhood schools. The policy change still has to be approved again at a second reading.

Perhaps more importantly, the details of exactly how that policy change would be implemented have yet to be hashed out. How will it be paid for? Which students would no longer be bused? Where will new neighborhood schools be built? All that has yet to be decided

Board members who support the policy change say it's unreasonable to bus kids to schools miles from their homes when closer ones are available.

But critics say ending the diversity policy will create rich and poor schools and more minority kids will fall through the cracks. Supporters counter that Wake County's graduation rate for socio-economically challenged kids is already hovering near 55 percent - so the current policy isn't working either.

Regardless of who's right, one thing does seem clear. The temperature of the debate shows no sign of cooling.

The group that the NAACP filed its complaint with Friday is an accreditation agency, but it has no power to force the school board to change policy.

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