Racism Seen in Move to Close Charlotte Schools

Ann Doss Helms, Charlotte Observer, October 24, 2010

A proposal by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools [CMS] to close eight urban schools, where less than 10 percent of the total enrollment is white, has sparked bitter debate and action by state and local NAACP leaders accusing CMS of racism.

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“I don’t know how widespread it is, but the people who are angry about it are extremely angry,” said county commissioners’ Chairwoman Jennifer Roberts, who attended a recent NAACP meeting where leaders urged about 200 people to fight school-closing plans, going to jail if necessary.

Targeted for closure

Hundreds of parents, including many from the suburbs and affluent in-town neighborhoods, have protested recent changes in boundaries and magnet programs.

But talk of closings takes anxiety to a new level. Superintendent Peter Gorman has suggested closing eight of CMS’ 176 schools. They’re home to about 4,000 students–mostly black, Hispanic and low-income.

Gorman said the schools were tagged because they have empty classrooms or academic failings. And with budget cuts looming, he said, it’s better to sacrifice buildings than teachers.

“We didn’t target any one group,” Gorman said last week. “What we’re doing is targeting problems, and our problem is the financial challenge.”

Historic echoes

But to some, it’s the latest twist in a cycle of discrimination that dates back to Jim Crow schools, continued with urban renewal projects that razed black neighborhoods, and gathered new force when courts dismantled CMS’ desegregation plan about 10 years ago.

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The Rev. William Barber, president of the N.C. conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, came to Charlotte last week to help plan follow-up action. He says Charlotte’s national prominence and historic position as a leader in the quest for desegregation makes it the ideal place for a long-term fight against neighborhood schools isolated by race and income.

“Resegregation of schools is the enemy of educational excellence,” he said Friday.

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