Somebody apparently pushed the wrong buttons:
Democrats charge racism, mischaracterize school report: The state Democratic Party said Wednesday that a new report from an off-session study committee will "break up North Carolina’s county-wide school districts and re-segregate North Carolina’s public schools." It will not.
In fact, the report doesn't recommend any legislation. It says "any future legislation considered by the General Assembly to create a procedure by which citizens may initiate the breakup of large (school systems) will require additional study.” The report also recommends that any division efforts "take care to ensure equality."
I don't usually include headlines when grabbing quotes, but in this case it was necessary to demonstrate the (angry) flavor of the article. Not sure where the animus comes from, but I can guess. Some efforts by political operatives and over-zealous advocates to influence news stories can cross the line, into the area of bullying and harassment. I've seen reporters complain about this on more than one occasion, and those complaints are justified. Let them do their jobs. But even if that is the case, that "irritation" should not bleed into the actual reporting. And as far as that last sentence, I've got three words for this reporter: "Separate But Equal." That was the justification used by Segregationists for decades for keeping black children in their own poorly-funded schools. As to the report itself, which generated this apparent bad blood, it most certainly does give lawmakers a roadmap for re-segregating some of NC's schools:
Kara McCraw, Staff Attorney with the Legislative Analysis Division of the North Carolina General Assembly, described various decision-points related to timelines and governance if the General Assembly
were to divide a school system into multiple units. The decision-points included:
How much time is needed to transition between school systems?
Should referendums be a component or option in the division process?
Who should be on the interim board?
What happens to the interim board on the official date of the new system?
How should the permanent board be constituted?
What authority should the interim board be given?
Should July 1 be the official transition date for the system or should other dates be considered?
Ms. McCraw said the State's prior experience with district mergers may inform procedures for school district division. She said that in past mergers approved by the General Assembly, the transition period has been six months to two years, averaging about one year. She said that past transition plans for school administrative units have frequently used an "interim board" to bridge the move to the new system. The interim board is usually in place at least six to seven months prior to the official start date of the new unit. She said members of the interim and permanent board can be either elected by voters or appointed by another entity, such as the prior board of education, the county commissioners, or the General Assembly.
Ms. McCraw said that in past mergers, the General Assembly has empowered interim boards to do some or all of the following:
Make the budget request for the initial school year
Make contracting decisions
Make decisions on capital needs
Make student assignment decisions
Basically, she's saying they don't have to re-invent the wheel to break up school districts, just reverse engineer the process used to combine them. What you see above is an outline, steps that need to be included in the actual Legislation. Don't believe me? Wait until the bill is written and match up the components.
So we've got the basic structure of the yet-to-be-written bill, but what about the legality? Are we going to do this only to get it thrown out in court? Well, the report covers that, too:
Brian Gwyn, Staff Attorney with the Legislative Analysis Division of the North Carolina General Assembly, provided an overview of how school district division might implicate the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. He said the most recent case law on this subject comes from Stout v. Jefferson County Board of Education, which was recently decided by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in early 2018. Mr. Gwyn cautioned that this decision is not binding on North Carolina, and, unlike Jefferson County Schools, none of the large districts in North Carolina are still under desegregation orders. Nonetheless, he said the court's rationale can still be informative.
Mr. Gwyn provided a detailed overview of the case. The 11th Circuit reversed the trial court decision that would have allowed the city of Gardendale, Alabama to secede from Jefferson County Schools and create its own school system. The trial court found that while there was evidence of a racially discriminatory motive for seceding, Gardendale could nonetheless form its own school system. The 11th Circuit affirmed the finding of racial discrimination, but reversed the decision regarding the remedy, stating that, because of the desegregation order and the discriminatory motive, the district could not be allowed to secede.
Mr. Gwyn identified three lessons that North Carolina could learn from the Stout case. First, an Equal Protection violation is more likely to exist if a desegregation order is in place, because the school district division could be unconstitutional if it impedes the desegregation order. Without a desegregation order, a legal challenge would only stop the division if discriminatory intent could be shown. Second, he said that comments by government actors matter, even before they are government actors. It is important that public officials or those leading an effort for school division not make statements that suggest a discriminatory motive in dividing the school districts. Third, he said the discriminatory effect of the district division, such as increased racial segregation, can be used as evidence of discriminatory intent, but it is not likely to be sufficient to prove discriminatory intent without direct evidence.
What I bolded in the first paragraph pretty much waves a green flag for the race to start, while the third paragraph puts them under a caution flag. And I can't help but draw a connection from that "not make statements that suggest a discriminatory motive" to what transpired in the gerrymandering lawsuit, where Republicans bragged about partisan motives. But wherever that warning came from, it basically boils down to: "Racial segregation is a safe legal move as long as you don't admit to it."
I might as well end this with a "Fact Check" that reporters have used (usually very helpfully) in the last couple of years. On the reporters claim that Democrats "mischaracterized" the report, that's partly true. The report itself is not Legislation, or binding, nor does it explicitly state that schools "should" be broken apart. But it does provide lawmakers the tools and legal justification to do so. And when that bill is written, and if the content of the report is included (which I think it will be), that reporter's "It will not" declaration will not have aged very well.