Monday we celebrated the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. His life was dedicated to bringing an end to segregation and breaking down racial barriers. But the recent redistricting of New Hanover County middle schools has some parents concerned that the issue of race is still alive in the Port City. We sat down with the school board chair to ask him your questions about about last week's vote.
After 11 months of public forums, revisions and review the school board approved a map favoring neighborhood schools. It was a close vote; four to three with Dorothy Deshields, Elizabeth Redenbaugh and Nick Rhodes voting against.
"It would be diverse," DeShields said after the vote about busing students to balance socioeconomic factors. "It should have students from poor homes, median income homes and from rich homes and those children could feed on each other in a positive way. When you separate you're almost segregating the schools."
It's that concern that generated strong feelings among our viewers prompting 61 comments on the story on our website polarized over concerns about diversity, not only racial, but socioeconomic. One viewer wrote, "Neighborhood schools equal segregation." But another wrote, "This has nothing to do with race." And another: "Racism has been outed on the board... The children will suffer. We are responsible."
We sat down with school board chair Ed Higgins, who cast the tie-breaking vote, to raise some of your concerns.
"We are saying we don't care what race you are," Higgins said. "We are looking at contiguous school districts, and that's how we are assigning people."
Another hot button issue among parents on our website was whether neighborhood schools not only separated students by race, but also by income.
"When they go home, they go back in to the same neighborhood they came from," Higgins said, "and that's where the problem is. It's in the neighborhood. It is not in the school. And so again, my personal belief is by going to neighborhood schools, then hopefully we can change the philosophy of the neighborhood. Until that changes, peer pressure is going to continue to keep certain students from wanting to succeed"
One viewer agreed writing, "The best school in the world can not become a substitute for parenting."
We contacted the three school board members who voted against the neighborhood school option. Both Rhodes and DeShields did not return our calls. Redenbaugh was out of town.