RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - When North Carolina's Wake County decided to do away withrace-based busing to desegregate schools, local officials came upwith a novel solution to maintain balance.
The new method of assigning students by their socio-economicbackground rather than race helped to keep campuses integrated.Adopted in 2000, it quickly became a blueprint for other schoolsystems.
That policy, however, has never sat well with many suburbanparents -- often white and middle class -- who argue that thestudent assignment plan sends their kids too far from home. And anew school board, swept into office by those vocal parents, tookthe first step toward scrapping the plan Tuesday night.
The board that governs schools in Raleigh voted 5-to-4 to stopbusing students to schools outside their neighborhoods. The changerequires final approval at a meeting later this month.
Dozens of parents and students lined up to speak as discussionbegan late in the afternoon. Curtis Gatewood, a black man, urgedthe board not to dump the diversity plan and decried "whiteracists." His comments were interrupted by jeers.
"If you want to go to hell, don't expect to take our childrenwith you," he said to the board as authorities approached to calmhim down.
The issue has revived the term "segregation" and the brought theweight of history into recent school board meetings. Some parentsand students around the state capital have implored the newlyelected leaders to back away from their plan to drastically alterthe diversity policy.
"Please preserve the New South. Don't take us back to the OldSouth," parent Robert Siegel told the school board.
Reversing the diversity rules would follow a cascade of similarshifts around the South, and particularly in North Carolina, whichonce was a model of desegregation. Now the state is increasinglystarting to mirror an era many thought had past: On one side of thestate, in the coastal town of Wilmington, an elementary school ofseveral hundred students has just one who is black. On the other,in the banking hub of Charlotte, a primary school of similar sizehas just one student who is white.
In the military town of Goldsboro, starkly divided schools haveled civil rights leaders to accuse local school officials ofcreating "an apartheid district."
Ron Margiotta, the new board chairman in Wake County, vowed thatthe change there was in the interest of students because it wouldallow parents more options and refocus families on the schools intheir neighborhood. He bristled at any suggestion that the move hadsomething to do with race.
"It's something that offends me," Margiotta said in an interviewbefore the vote. "Nobody's going to go back to Jim Crow days."
The diversity policy in Wake County became a popular model in2007, when the Supreme Court limited the use of race in howdistricts assign students. Its current policy sends students toschools to achieve socioeconomic diversity, which also improvedracial diversity by frequently sending lower income black childrenfrom the city's center to predominantly white schools in thesuburbs. Some schools also created magnet programs to attractstudents from other neighborhoods with advanced courses in foreignlanguage, science and other topics.
Margiotta said the busing program has not helped minoritystudents and has distracted from focusing on stronger educationpolicy.
"What we're doing isn't working," Margiotta said.
But Ebere Collins, a black mother of two students in thedistrict, said her son travels one hour by bus to get from his homein Raleigh to a middle school in the suburb of Wake Forest. Whilethe trip is long, she feels it helps her son mingle with peopleoutside of the neighborhood and ensures that all students haveaccess to the same resources.
"Mix them up, let them experience each other," she said. "Byscattering them around, they will enjoy the benefits other peopleare enjoying."
Gary Orfield, a UCLA professor who studies busing and civilrights, said the entire South has been resegregating for the past20 years -- which he deemed "a gigantic historic tragedy." Hepraised Wake County's current policy and warned that a renewedfocus on neighborhood school assignment will be most damaging tochildren who come from poor or uneducated families because thosestudents benefit most from integration.
"What it does when you go to 'neighborhood' schools is it meansthat you put the kids who are most affected by school opportunityin the schools with the weakest opportunity," Orfield said. "That'sa tragedy."
If the diversity policy is pulled back, Orfield said, Raleighcan expect to see some of the same impoverished, troubled schoolsas Detroit, Philadelphia, New York and Chicago.
In Charlotte, the site of a groundbreaking Supreme Court casethat led to three decades of busing to ensure racial balance,schools have spent much of the past several years resegregatingafter getting federal court approval to allow parents more choiceof where to send their kids.
At Beverly Woods Elementary, just north of the Quail HollowCountry
Club that hosts a namesake PGA Tour event, 79 percent ofthe students are white. A few miles up the road, at MontclaireElementary, only 4 percent of the students -- just 19 out of 450 --are white.
There are no plans in Charlotte to revisit busing. PamelaGrundy, a parent in Charlotte who has decried the divisions withinthe school district, said leaders in Raleigh should takenotice.
"The lesson of Charlotte is that desegregation will go away soquickly. Once you lose it, you can't get it back," she said.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
A Suffolk house fire displaced a family of seven Wednesday morning.
An Oscar Smith football player was named the 2013-2014 Gatorade National Football Player of the Year Wednesday.
A building at Norfolk State University has been evacuated due to a gas leak.