RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — The school board in North Carolina's capital city narrowly agreed Tuesday to roll back a policy that buses students to achieve diversity, following a tense meeting at which three people were arrested, others were forcibly removed and heated arguments echoed passions from an era past.
After dozens spoke at a hearing, the Wake County school board voted 5-4 to approve a new assignment policy aimed at placing students in schools near their homes.
The talk was angry, as terms like "segregation" peppered many arguments. A crowd of students sitting outside the doors of the meeting chanted so loudly that they briefly disrupted the hearing. Extra police officers were on hand to provide security.
Raleigh police said three men were charged with trespassing or resisting officers. One was released and two others remained jailed Tuesday night.
"Hey, hey. Ho, ho. Resegregation has got to go," an arrested man chanted as officers placed him in the back of a squad car.
Others shouted at school board chairman Ron Margiotta, who came out of the hearing to plead for quiet.
Dozens had signed up to speak before the final vote. The board, which governs the schools in Raleigh, voted 5-to-4 earlier this month to approve the proposal to keep kids close to home.
Reversing the diversity rules follows a cascade of similar shifts around the South, and particularly in North Carolina, which once was a model of desegregation.
Racial tensions have lingered for weeks as the school board moved forward. State NAACP chief William Barber recently accused the new board majority of having "racist attitudes" after the chairman referred to his opponents as "animals out of the cages."
The NAACP supported the long-standing policy that uses socio-economic background rather than race to assign students, and Barber continued to question the board's plans during Tuesday's meeting.
"It's morally wrong. It's legally wrong. It's economically wrong," he said of the proposed changes. "Your press to go backward will only serve to intensify our moral, political and legal fight to go forward. We will never go back."
The policy, however, has never sat well with many suburban parents — often white and middle class — who argue that the student assignment plan sends their kids too far from home. And a new school board, swept into office by those vocal parents, was taking steps to scrap the plan.
Other speakers questioned the board's handling of Tuesday's public meeting. The board announced a day ahead that citizens would need to get tickets to attend. Mark Dorosin, an attorney at the UNC Center for Civil Rights, said the decision violates the law.
Several also came out to endorse the school board's ideas.
Bill Randall, a black congressional candidate, said the diversity program is not the root of problems among low-achieving students.
"Let this school board do what they were elected to do," Randall said.
Wake County's school board began its busing policy in 1999. With the Supreme Court in 2007 limiting the use of race in how districts assign students, Wake County's policy became a model for other districts around the nation which still wanted to maintain balance among school demographics.
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.
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