‘Segregated schools are bad.’ Snow day sparks Wake defense of countywide schools.

The Wake County school system defended diverse schools Sunday in the face of critics who said the cancellation of classes due to inclement weather shows the district is too large and should be split up.

The decision on whether to close school often sparks debate about whether it would be better to break up the 857 square-mile district into smaller school systems. In a lengthy Twitter thread that drew a lot of reaction on social media, Wake school officials explained how they decide to close school and why the community benefits from having a countywide system.

“Long thread about our countywide school system and inclement weather. Grab a mug of hot chocolate and listen in,” Wake tweeted Sunday morning.

Wake would go on to cancel classes for Monday, but beforehand the district tweeted how it considers factors such as pine trees shading residential streets and making it hard for snow to melt and how deadly black ice can be for drivers.

Critics have argued that, if Wake was split into smaller districts, weather issues in one part of the county wouldn’t force students in other parts to stay home.

But Wake tweeted that many teachers don’t work in the towns they live in and that a large number of students choose to attend schools in towns not near where they live. This group mainly consists of students who travel long distances for magnet-school programs.

But Wake said the “very, very, very important” reason why it’s a countywide district is how it promotes integrated schools, low taxes and has attracted many residents to the area.

“Without countywide school assignments, we would have school segregation,” Wake tweeted Sunday. “Segregated schools are bad for students and bad for our community. Watch the video we posted in the thread for more information.”

Until 1976, the Wake County school system and the Raleigh City Schools were separate districts. Both were merged in part because of concerns that the city schools were becoming segregated, which would hurt the future health of the area.

Wake is now the 15th largest school district in the country and the biggest in North Carolina, with 160,000 students. But many people who move into Wake from outside the state are used to much smaller municipally based school systems and have voiced frustration when their children aren’t assigned to their closest school.

Wake buses fewer students for diversity reasons than a decade ago due to a variety of factors, such as cost and competition from charter schools. A report earlier this year found Wake is more segregated than it was a decade ago, but less so than many large school systems.

A state legislative committee studied breaking up North Carolina school districts but didn’t make any recommendations this year.

Wake credited education writer Nikole Hannah-Jones for inspiring the Twitter thread. The district posted an article she wrote about school resegregation in Alabama that it encouraged district staff to read.

Jones began her career covering Durham Public Schools for the News & Observer. She has since won numerous journalism awards about school segregation and writes about racial injustice for The New York Times Magazine.

Hannah-Jones, who spoke to Wake’s principals a few days ago, acknowledged Wake’s tweets on Sunday.

“When one of the largest school systems in the country claps back and ties a convo about inclement weather into the necessity of school integration, the world is a changing,” Hannah Jones tweeted.

Both the tweets from Wake and Hannah-Jones were retweeted and liked hundreds of times Sunday.

Some people weren’t convinced by Wake’s explanation.

“The NE has a lot of town based school districts which means teachers and students commonly have to travel through a closed district to get to their’s that is open.,” tweeted Josh Duewer.

Wake struck down the thought of emulating northeastern US school districts in its reply,

“The northeast has some of our nation’s most segregated school districts,” Wake tweeted. “No thank you.”

When another person tweeted that “it’s not difficult” to break up countywide school systems, Wake replied “True, not difficult if you want segregated schools.”

Some people thanked the district for its explanation and defense of having a countywide system.

“The reasons are eye opening for us transplants,” tweeted Karen Veater Walker, a Wake parent. “Though cancelled school is inconvenient, my kids have more opportunities @WCPSS than they did in PA. That’s what matters. 1-2 weeks a year shouldn’t negate the other benefits.”

“Love this thread!” added Lisa Kaylie, a parent in neighboring Chapel Hill, in her tweet. “Public schools using a snowstorm to educate. Thank you @WCPSS! #NCED.”

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T. Keung Hui has covered K-12 education for the News & Observer since 1999, helping parents, students, school employees and the community understand the vital role education plays in North Carolina. His primary focus is Wake County, but he also covers statewide education issues.