School board protest ends with arrests

Rev. William Barber, Mary D. Williams, Rev. Nancy Petty and Dr. Timothy B. Tyson
June 16, 2010 2:34:37 AM PDT
A takeover by opponents of the Wake County school board brought Tuesday's meeting to a grinding halt around 5:30 p.m. at school board headquarters on Wake Forest Road in Raleigh.Leading the protest was Rev. William Barber, president of the state chapter of the NAACP.

The organization has said it was upset when the Wake County school board ended the county's 11-year-old diversity policy in a 5-4 vote last month.

The NAACP has also expressed concern that the new community-based policy will re-segregate schools in Wake County.

The protest started when Barber began reading a statement during the public comment session of Tuesday's meeting.

School Board Chairman Ron Margiotta seemed visibly annoyed by the fact that they continued to speak well beyond the 10 minutes they had apparently agreed to before the meeting.

"The decision of the anti-diversity members of this Wake County school board to destroy socio-economic policy is morally wrong," Barber said. "We pray that we'll stand, that we will not turn around, that we will not give in."

At the end of his statement, Barber along with three other protesters, Mary D. Williams, Rev. Nancy Petty and Dr. Timothy B. Tyson, linked hands and began singing, "We shall overcome some day."

Board Co-Chair Debra Goldman seemed to smile, while Margiotta discussed with the school board attorney the next move. When board members decided to leave the room and go into closed session, Barber, along the three others staged a sit in and went around the barrier surrounding board member's seats and sat in their chairs.

When Margiotta returned to the board room, he addressed Barber.

"I'd like to ask you to leave the room," Margiotta said.

Barber responded in silence, by crossing his arms. Moments later, Raleigh police officers led the four protestors out of the board room and into squad cars outside the school board headquarters.

"What we do today is not for ourselves, but for our children and we make the statement forward-ever, backwards, never," Barber said.

Barber, Williams, Petty and Tyson were all arrested and booked on charges of second degree trespassing.

"I think we took every step to not have someone arrested," Margiotta said. "It's the last thing in the world that I wanted to see happen."

It's unclear at this time if the four will be allowed to attend any school board meetings in the future.

While the protest was taking place, the NAACP sent out a statement entitled, "Why we choose to break the law in nonviolent resistance and moral witness against the re-segregation of the Wake County Public Schools."

According to Williams' biography on her website, she has been an African American historian studies performer for over 20 years.

She along with her colleague Tyson --an author, Senior Research Scholar, Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University, Adjunct Professor of American Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill-- have taught a community-based college course together four times.

Rev. Petty is the pastor of Raleigh's Pullen Memorial Baptist Church.

The former program that the group was fighting for, aimed to achieve socio-economic diversity in Wake County schools. It became a national model for districts looking to achieve balance in student populations without running afoul of a 2007 Supreme Court decision limiting the use of race in how students are assigned.

The five board members who voted to scrap the policy argue there are better ways to achieve diversity in schools. They favor keeping Wake's nearly 140,000 students as close as possible to schools in their neighborhoods.

Before the meeting was interrupted by the protest, Wake County school board members began discussing a draft that defines short-term and long-term goals for community-based schools in the county.

The draft includes community engagement meetings set for sometime early next year. By October, there will be a final multi-year student assignment plan to present to the board.

The goal will be to implement the new student assignment plan by July of 2012.

In addition to the new student assignment policy, there was also talk about the search for a new superintendent and the board's consideration of a Chicago-based search firm to fill that position.

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