If you go
WHAT: Community meeting on issues surrounding operation of the Charleston County School District.
WHO: The Charleston Branch NAACP.
WHEN: 6:30 p.m. Thursday.
WHERE: Morris Brown AME Church educational center, 13 Morris St.
MORE INFORMATION: 813-3363 or 814-8764.
Opponents aren't mollified at the Charleston County School Board decision to go ahead with Montessori learning while keeping watch to make sure the move doesn't leave out neighborhood students and undermine racial diversity at Hursey Elementary School.
The issue is expected to be one of the dominant discussions at a community meeting to be held Thursday by the NAACP Charleston branch.
"We're going to let the people drive the meeting," said Dot Scott, Charleston branch president.
But Hursey parents who sought to expand the Montessori program say a majority of the school community favors it and the program so far has benefitted the students that the NAACP is concerned about.
Meanwhile, the ongoing dispute between the union representing bus drivers and Durham School Services, the company managing the service, is also expected to be discussed at the community meeting.
The school board earlier this week approved proceeding with the transition from traditional to Montessori classes at Hursey in North Charleston but asked staff to report whether the school continues to reflect the racial diversity of the North Charleston neighborhood around it. The NAACP is concerned that students who are minorities may be driven out of their neighborhood schools.
Montessori is an education style that emphasizes individual creativity and choice. The Hursey move is part of an overall district effort to provide sites for non-traditional learning in each area of the county.
"The neighborhood wants and has wanted this for the last several years," said parent Jerry Lahm, citing two surveys in which the majority of families supported the Montessori move. Four of every five students in both traditional and Montessori classes are minority students, he said.
But the Rev. Joseph Darby, Charleston branch NAACP vice president, said he is bothered by the school board's decision.
"It's a lofty promise," he said, but the community he represents wants to see it followed through.
"If the school district does a little more listening to the community, it will be more believable and (its decisions) a little less paternalistic," he said.
On the school bus issue, the NAACP continues to battle Durham, saying a recent survey shows that two-thirds of the system's 364 buses have had a breakdown with students aboard. The survey also indicated that 60 percent of the buses have been required to transport more students than the bus' capacity.
"There are a lot of safety issues," Scott said. "If the buses are defective, why are they allowing them on the road?"
But Scott said she did not have immediate access to the survey to forward it. Cindy Bohn-Coats, the board chairwoman, said she had not heard about the survey until a news release cited it Monday.
Durham regional manager Ron Wilson said the company shared concern over "the state's aging fleet," which makes up about two-thirds of the buses the company runs in the district.
Bus safety concerns, as well as bus cleanliness and the treatment of drivers, have been raised repeatedly since Durham was contracted in 2007 to provide services for five years. The same concerns drove strike threats in 2013 before bus drivers agreed to a new five-year contract with Durham. And they were dominant in a recent dispute between the drivers' union and the company over hiring non-union employees to fix seats and clean the buses, a dispute that led the company to sue the union over unfair labor practices.
Earlier this month, the school board extended the Durham contract a year to give staff time to prepare a competitive bidding process for bus services that would take into account a potential strike by drivers if Durham is replaced. Scott said the extension should have gone to competitive bid.
Reach Bo Petersen at 937-5744, @bopete on twitter or Bo Petersen Reporting on Facebook.
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