Thousands of Mount Pleasant elementary and middle school students could be affected by new attendance zones that would go into effect next year, but details of those proposals won’t be made public until Thursday night.
It was unclear Tuesday how many students the changes would affect, but more than 7,800 students are enrolled in those schools, and officials said every school will be involved.
While the timing of the release of the rezoning proposal troubled some, others said they’re more concerned about the lack of opportunities to give input to create these options.
“Nobody has seen anything,” said Howard Chalmers, chairman of the School Improvement Council for Laurel Hill Primary. Chalmers has two children in Park West neighborhood schools and a third who will enroll next year. “I understand that there’s a process to gather information and put together options and then vet those options with the public. I get that. But why didn’t they work harder to get input earlier in the process before coming up with the options?”
Marty Belk, chairwoman of the Mount Pleasant constituent school board, said the board has been working for 18 months on redrawing attendance lines for the elementary and middle schools to address overcrowding and ensure all schools offer comparable curriculums.
It has come up with options that could go into effect for the 2013-14 school year, but officials are refusing to release details about those until a Thursday night meeting.
“It is the view of the constituent school board and that of the school district that the process would be better served by having the opportunity to present the proposals to the public in an organized fashion with all of the necessary materials available at one time on Thursday night,” said John Emerson, the district’s attorney. “It’s public information that will be made public Thursday. I think it’s perfectly reasonable for us to maintain control over the presentation of these plans.”
Chalmers said he was only asked once — in May — to comment on rezoning priorities. When he found out about the meeting, he had no idea whether it was a request for initial input or the unveiling of a plan. He said he wished parents would be given some time to study the proposal and digest it before being asked for feedback at the only scheduled public hearing.
“No one has time to prepare,” he said. “The only thing people have time to prepare remarks for is the process to this point, which has been completely hidden from everyone.”
No decisions will be made Thursday, and officials said the public will have an opportunity to give written feedback that night and later.
Jay Bender, the attorney for the South Carolina Press Association, said the district might not be violating the Freedom of Information Act, but it seemed to be a violation of the public’s trust.
“I’ve never understood why public bodies jerk their constituents around by making them wait when the information is readily available,” he said. “From a public relations perspective, they’ve already blown it by saying, ‘We don’t trust you to understand this when we give it to you.’ If they had any sense, they would put it online (now) so when people come Thursday, they’ll have context to understand their remarks.”
Belk said she understands everyone wants to see the options, but she wants to distribute the information in a way that wouldn’t lead to misunderstandings. She said principals and School Improvement Council chairs were asked for input, but they haven’t seen the proposals.
“If we did that, we would never have an orderly meeting, and there would be all kinds of calls,” Belk said. “We’ve gone through this before. I know what can happen.”
The proposals that will be presented aren’t set in stone, and they could change depending on public feedback, she said.
Reach Diette Courrégé Casey at @Diette on Twitter or (843) 937-5546.