Mother Fights 15-Mile Bus Ride

T. Keung Hui, News & Observer (Raleigh), January 22, 2009

Diversity to help keep Wake County schools integrated and academically healthy has a cost that Beteena Person says her Southeast Raleigh neighborhood shouldn’t pay.

But under Wake’s proposed reassignment plan, Person’s neighborhood would be transferred to a school 15 miles from her home. That’s 2 1/2 times the distance to its current school, and the new school operates on a different schedule–a year-round calendar.

Person’s children would be forced to switch to reduce the percentage of low-income students at Smith Elementary School in Garner. School leaders agreed to make this kind of change to end a standoff with town officials and get permission from Garner leaders to renovate Smith.

School leaders hope to replace Person’s neighborhood with more-affluent students who might apply for Smith’s new magnet program. But Person doesn’t see why her children have to move.

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Board members have heard very little from minority parents, especially those from Southeast Raleigh, such as Person.

Most of the feedback has come from white, suburban parents who are upset about their children changing schools. Person said those families are being asked to travel much shorter distances than the Southeast Raleigh children who may be bused more than 20 miles to school.

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Under Wake’s diversity policy, some Southeast Raleigh children travel to Garner and even farther away to North Raleigh and western Wake.

School leaders point to research showing that academic performance suffers at schools that have too many low-income students. They try to ensure that no school is overwhelmed by students from poor families or those with limited skill in English or with other special needs.

Garner community leaders have complained that Wake buses too many Southeast Raleigh students into the town’s schools. They say that having so many high-poverty schools is hurting development in Garner.

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Garner’s complaints about low-income children from Southeast Raleigh angered Person. She points out that her children received subsidized lunches when she first took them in as foster children. But now that she and her husband have adopted them, her children pay for their meals.

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Person said her family moved from North Raleigh in 2006 in order to find a more-affordable home. She said they wanted to save on housing costs to pay for extras such as taekwondo and dance for their children.

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