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19 arrested as protesters claim school plan would resegregate system

By Chris Reinolds Kozelle, CNN
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N. Carolina school diversity controversy
  • Police arrested 19, including the state NAACP chairman, at school board meeting
  • The board chairman says the return to neighborhood schools is needed
  • Opponents of the move say it would create re-segregation of schools

(CNN) -- Police in Raleigh, North Carolina, arrested 19 people at a rancorous school board meeting Tuesday afternoon where protesters accused the Wake County School Board of adopting a plan that will resegregate the school system.

The Wake County School School Board voted in March to stop the decade-long practice of socio-economic school assignment and assign students to their neighborhood schools. The system plans to transition into the new practice in the next 15 months.

Currently 85 percent of the system's 143,000 students attend a school within five miles of their home, said system spokesman Michael Evans. Another 12 to 13 percent attend magnet schools and the remaining 3 percent are assigned based on their income level and growth issues.

Wake County is a booming school system with unprecedented growth that often requires the students to attend different schools, Evans said.

Video: Protest ends with arrests

The discontent among opponents, which included the Wake County superintendent who recently resigned as well as the state schools superintendent, has been mounting and also resulted in arrests at a school board meeting in June. Tuesday's meeting agenda did not address the issue, but it was raised by speakers during public comment, Evans said.

"This board cannot and will not permit these distractions to divert our attention away from our priority, and that is of increased achievement for all students," school board chairman Ron Margiotta has said.

The Rev. William Barber, head of the North Carolina NAACP, was one of the first arrested before he entered the school board building. He led a crowd chanting "What do we want? Justice. When do we want it? Now," as they descended on the school board building.

Before the meeting Barber also spoke at a protest rally that drew about 1,000 people to the state capital.

"This is not a game, Mr. Margiotta," Barber said. "You have in your hands the future of 140,000 young people ... you know educationally, legally and morally your policy changes are wrong."

Another minister, David Forbes, also spoke at the rally, saying, "'Neighborhood schools' is a trick word to re-segregate a city that worked hard to bring about a progressive new possibility."

Barber and two others were arrested before the meeting for trespassing. Police said they arrested 16 others during the board meeting for trespassing and disorderly conduct. Evans said the protesters locked arms and started singing during the public comment section.

"The board has made decisions. I think they are the right decisions ... there is a big misinterpretation," board member Debra Goldman has said.

The March vote to return to community schools attendance zones was 5-4.