Judge throws out lawsuit against Wake school board

Lawyers make their arguments in court Friday (Jim Shumacher photo)

May 14, 2010 9:57:03 PM PDT
A Superior Court judge ruled Friday afternoon against a group of citizens who sued the Wake County School Board.

The group claimed the board violated North Carolina's Open Meetings Law by restricting access to a recent meeting. It wanted action taken by the board at the meeting on March 23 be invalidated.

Click here to read the ruling (.pdf)

At the March 23 meeting, the board approved a resolution to do away with the district's old pro-diversity assignment policy in favor of so-called "neighborhood schools." The highly controversial move drew a large crowd, but the board restricted access to its meeting room and required anyone who came in to have one of a limited number of tickets. The board declined an offer from the News & Observer newspaper which said it would pay to move the meeting to a larger venue.

The lawsuit alleged that by barring the plaintiffs from the meeting, the board violated state law and undermined the democratic process.

At Friday's hearing, attorney for the plaintiffs Swain Wood said the board tried to silence its critics.

“The board has taken actions that clearly have the intention and effect of curtailing public attendance,” he said.

But Judge William R. Pittman ruled Friday that the fact that the board makes its meeting available on television and over the internet for people to watch and provides overflow rooms is a reasonable attempt to accommodate large crowds.

Pittman also said North Carolina law does not require the board to move to larger meeting spaces if there is a large turnout.

"When the board believed that there was going to be a need for additional folks they added two ancillary rooms, they wired them for sound and for sight, they made accommodations so that anyone who signed up and wanted to speak even if they didn't have a seat in the main room could be brought into the room," Wake County School Board's Lawyer Kieran Shanahan said.

Pittman denied the plaintiff's motion for a preliminary injunction and dismissed their case.

Shanahan believes the lawsuit was a desperate attempt to stall a new policy.

On Friday, the group WakeCares stated it supports the judge's ruling and lauds the new board for its openness to the public.

"Above all the result of this should be that the public and the school board now start to have a much healthier relationship," Wood said.

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