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Parents and Civil Rights Groups Say Proposed Town Charter School Legislation Will Return the State to the 1940s-Era Education System

Raleigh, NC (April 30, 2020) – Legislation adopted by the North Carolina General Assembly in 2018 (HB 514) violates the state’s constitutional guarantees of a uniform system of free public education, and equal protection under the law, parents, state civil rights groups and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law said in a lawsuit filed in Wake County Superior Court today.

HB 514, passed in summer 2018 by the General Assembly, illegally authorizes four predominantly white, wealthy towns in Mecklenburg County (Matthews, Mint Hill, Huntersville and Cornelius) to create Town Charter School Districts within the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools District (CMS). These new separate and unequal schools would operate with a racially segregative admission preference that would exclude students who do not live in the towns.

The bill became law without the governor’s approval because the legislation was considered a ‘local bill’ under the state’s constitution because it only applies to the four towns in Mecklenburg County.

“These Town Charters will result in further racial and socioeconomic segregation of students not only by creating majority white and wealthy schools using public funds,” said Mark Dorosin, a managing attorney for the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “But also, by leaving the CMS schools even more segregated by race and class, and undermining the district’s ability to address that disparity. Decades of education research shows that segregation hurts all students.”

The North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Branch of the NAACP and two parents with children in CMS filed the lawsuit. The plaintiffs are represented by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and the law firm of Tin, Fulton, Walker and Owen, P.L.L.C.

HB 514 was introduced following a proposal by CMS to redraw student assignment areas to stop the severe racial and socioeconomic segregation in CMS schools. That proposal was followed by release of a report from the CMS Opportunity Task Force highlighting the impacts of segregation by race and economics and referring to maps that reflect “lower opportunity neighborhoods dominated by people of color, contrasted with . . . white, wealthier residents in south and north Mecklenburg.”  Representative Bill Brawley introduced the Town Charter legislation shortly after the CMS announced its intention to take up student reassignment.

The lawsuit alleges that the threat of school secession by the four towns, led by “rancorous public debate” initiated by Matthews’ then-Mayor Jim Taylor and facilitated by the introduction of HB 514, intimidated the CMS Board to “significantly limit the scope” of the student reassignment plan it was considering. As a result, the final plan adopted and passed by the N.C. General Assembly in June 2018 was limited to impact less than five percent of the students in CMS and address concentrated poverty in only 21 of its 75 high-poverty schools. 

“Allowing these predominantly white towns to create publicly funded schools that can exclude the Black and Brown students that live in Charlotte is another attempt to push our schools back to the days beforeBrown v. Board of Ed.,” said Rev. Dr. T. Anthony Spearman, president of the North Carolina NAACP. “This legislation cannot stand.” 

“Our students deserve the same high-quality teachers, curriculum and facilities that students from white and wealthier families enjoy,” said Charlotte-Mecklenburg NAACP President Corinne Mack. “We are bringing this lawsuit to protect all students’ rights to an equitable education and to help end the segregation in CMS.”

A copy of the complaint is available here.