The ongoing debate over how best to use the former Rivers High School is a matter of intense public interest, and the public should be kept in the loop every step of the way.
Unfortunately that didn’t happen last week when the Charleston County school officials took members of the school board on a tour of Rivers, now occupied by the Charleston Charter School for Math & Science.
Because the tour was attended by six board members, it clearly violated the state’s Freedom of Information Act.
Under the FOIA, there has to be public notification if there is a quorum of the school board in attendance, even if it’s not a regular meeting of the board.
School district attorney John Emerson told our reporter that a quorum hadn’t been expected for the tour.
“That was not the plan,” he said.
In matters involving the board, a quorum should really not be the determining factor in involving the public. If it’s a board function, it should be public — whether district officials expect a quorum or not.
The board should insist on it, recognizing that its responsibility is to represent the public in making school policy.
Jay Bender, attorney for the S.C. Press Association, notes that chance meetings and social events cannot be used to circumvent the FOIA law. But the tour of Rivers was neither chance nor social. It was a district-sponsored event related to an issue that has generated extensive debate between advocates of the charter school and those who want the district to stick with its plan to have a new school, Low Country Tech, share the campus.
The Math & Science school wants the whole campus, citing the demand created by the academic success of its students. CCSMS advocates also emphasize the fact that the school has achieved a racial balance not seen in any other district school.
CCSMS officials contend that Burke High School is a better location for Low Country Tech.
Supporters of the tech school strongly object to that plan, saying that Rivers is the right location, and that the board shouldn’t go back on its promise to provide space there.
District Superintendent Nancy McGinley supports the plan to share the Rivers campus.
But following the recent election, the board agreed to reconsider the plan at the request of the Math & Science school.
Wednesday’s tour of Rivers was the first step in that review. It was followed by a workshop, for which public notice was made.
The debate over Rivers is represented by strong opinions on each side of the issue. All the more reason for the district to involve those partisans, and any among the general public who might be interested in the ongoing review. It’s important for the board to hear their comments, and full public access is needed for accountability.
And, of course, it’s the law.