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Are American schools returning to segregation?

The Supreme Court launched the desegregation of schools with Brown v. Board of Education in 1954. Now, once diverse districts like Goldsboro, N.C., are reverting to segregation, concerning civil rights advocates.

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The issue of segregation doesn't necessarily resonate strongly with the public, however. Nearly 8 out of 10 Americans said they favor letting students go to their local school, even if it means most of the students would be the same race, according to an Associated Press/Ipsos Public Affairs poll in 2004.

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Fletcher Cobb is a Goldsboro High alumnus who is now a janitor there. When he asked his niece, a current student, why she wasn't doing homework, she told him there aren't enough books for students to bring home. Other schools in the county have books that students can take home, a teacher told a local newspaper.

Other disparities, according to the complaint, include lower test scores; lower participation in advanced classes; higher suspension rates; and lower graduation rates (50 percent of Goldsboro High students graduated within four years in 2009, compared with 72 percent for the county schools as a whole).

"It should be mixed," says Goldsboro High junior Kaban Costello. A parent waiting to pick up a student after school says, "The kids need to be together, or else they're going to be always stuck in this framework of black and white."

School-system officials say they fund the Goldsboro High attendance zone just as well as the county's other schools, and there's nothing intentional about the racial makeup.

Wayne County is a low-wealth region trying to deal with a population drain from Goldsboro's 1940s-era downtown, says Ken Derksen, spokesman for the Wayne County Public Schools.

"The city of Goldsboro is comparable to a lot of cities around the nation looking at issues of black and white flight," Mr. Derksen says. "To turn around 30 years of flight overnight is not going to happen, and it's going to take a lot of effort on everybody's part."

One part of the civil rights complaint is that a waiver policy allows some families in the central attendance area to drive their children to schools in other zones. Out of 197 white students, 152 are shuttled to other schools. Among black students, 419 families have waivers, while about 2,000 stay in the central zone.

To improve opportunities for kids in the central attendance zone, officials three years ago started the Wayne School of Engineering on the Goldsboro High campus. Students from various zones attend the school through a lottery system. Thirty-seven percent of the pupils are from the central attendance area.

About 40 percent of the students at the engineering school are white. Students from the two schools mix on sports teams, but not in classes or at lunch. Many parents are scared away by rumors of weapons and violence at Goldsboro High, says Phylicia Nelson, a student at the engineering school.


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