The division among parents over whether to turn a traditional James Island elementary school into a Montessori school flared again Monday at a Charleston County School Board meeting with parents lobbying for and against the plan.
More than 30 people sported signs reading "yes to full Montessori" and "dual track for MLES" over whether to make Murray-Lasaine Elementary School exclusively Montessori. Four people addressed the board on the issue, three of whom were in favor of Montessori, while one was opposed.
The board did not take action on the issue despite member Tom Ducker last week saying that he expected a motion at Monday's meeting to continue offering both traditional and Montessori classes. Instead, the board opted to wait until after a school district meeting Wednesday to address the community's concerns.
The school board originally voted in 2012 to transition Murray-Lasaine to a Montessori school in the hopes of attracting more families to deal with dwindling enrollment. The board is revisiting the issue after a group of parents from the school insisted school district officials lead them to believe the school would continue to offer both traditional and Montessori classes. District officials have maintained the plan was always to make Murray-Lasaine an all-Montessori school.
The issue has divided parents and community members along racial lines with many black families preferring to keep traditional classes while a majority of white families support Montessori.
Stephen Cofer-Shabica, chair of the education committee for the Charleston branch of the NAACP, said the local NAACP supports keeping both traditional and Montessori classes at the school after hearing from some parents concerned the district is "ignoring" their call to keep traditional classes.
"These people feel transitioning Murray-Lasaine to full Montessori will adversely impact their children," he said.
Parents in favor of a Montessori curriculum presented the School Board with a petition with more than 260 signatures.
Meagan Bergeron told the board she supported the school's transition to an all-Montessori school.
Bergeron said parents on both sides of the issue were partially to blame for the tension in the community, but that district policies and actions on school choice allowed for "white flight" at Murray-Lasaine.
"You created the problem of low enrollment," Bergeron said, adding the district is using attendance as a motive for implementing Montessori curriculum at the school. "They're angry about low enrollment because you supported it."
A community meeting on Montessori at Murray-Lasaine will be held at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at Fort Johnson Middle School at 1825 Camp Road on James Island.