Apr 20 2010

Diversity perpetuates an “at risk model of education”

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On March 23, 2010 hundreds of protesters gathered around the Wake County School Board Building in Raleigh, NC.  Students, parents, and NAACP members joined together to protest the school board’s decision to change what has been called by the local North Carolina press the Wake County “Diversity Policy” (WRAL, News and Observer). The diversity policy, officially known as Student Assignment Policy 6200 (SAP 6200) outlined school assignment guidelines that included diversity as an essential component to the ways in which students were assigned to K-12 schools throughout the county.  Rather than continue student assignments with the goal of creating and maintaining diversity throughout the school system, proposed changes to the policy included the removal of the word “diversity” and the shift of school assignments to be based upon school choice and geographic proximity to community neighborhood schools.

Opponents of the proposed changes argued that changing the diversity policy in such a way would promote re-segregation of the school districts, and would encourage the re-creation of similar segregated conditions seen across the nation before the Brown v Board of education decision in 1954.  High school students camped outside of the School Board building chanted, “Hey Hey Ho Ho, Re-Segregation has got to go.” (WRAL, March 23,2010) Members of the NAACP and county residents held a vigil at St. Martin’s church the night before the March 23 school board meeting, pleading with the board members to keep diversity in Wake County Schools (WRAL).  After nearly a decade of the current student-assignment policy being based upon socio-economic diversity, the school board officially voted on March 23, 2010 to revise the way students are assigned to schools.

While it is within the scope of the school board to make such decisions and legal precedents have been set in recent years for them to do so, the way in which the changes have taken place demonstrate an important phenomenon.  Through an analysis of the revised Student Assignment Policy 6200, which I will refer to as SAP 6200, (Click here to download the document from the Wake County School Board’s website) we can visually trace a rhetorical shift of the word diversity.   This analysis will show how the term “diversity” conveys a fundamentally different meaning when situated within the context of the revised SAP 6200 document.  This examination provides us not only with a micro example of the ways in which words can shift and reshape within particular contexts, but also helps us to understand the protesters’ objections to the proposed document revisions.

In 2009 four new school board members were elected to the Wake County Public Schools 9 member school board.  Each new member ran on a similar platform that outlined an agenda focused on creating community and neighborhood schools.  On December 1, 2009 the new board members were sworn into office.  That same evening, the board passed a motion to make changes to the SAP 6200 and a proposed revision was approved.

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