NAACP meeting tackles bus safety, diversity issues at Charleston County schools

(FILE)

Unsafe buses and diversity in Charleston County schools dominated discussion Thursday night at a monthly chapter meeting of the NAACP’s Charleston branch.

The town hall-style meeting was well attended and everyone from Durham bus drivers to parents and concerned community members took turns expressing their concerns with the Charleston County School District.

The topic most discussed was the safety of school children on Durham school buses. At a forum last week, local bus drivers aired their worries about the condition of the buses.

Charleston County School District is in the process of accepting a new contract for transportation.

“The buses are bad off and these children are on unsafe buses,” said Felicia Anderson, a local Durham bus driver. “The buses are not running properly.”

She and other drivers detailed accounts of breaking down, overcrowding and taking on too many routes because buses are out of service.

Latrisha Pringle, a local driver and union representative, said there are at least seven current Durham buses that have been sitting, untouched in the lot for more than a year. She said that drivers are held accountable for keeping students safe and have a number of protocols to follow.

“If we don’t wear these (safety vests), if we don’t check for sleeping children, we get written up,” she said. “Who’s going to get written up for unsafe buses?”

Adelai Brown, the mother of an eighth-grader who rides Durham buses, said she is frustrated at the problem.

“Every time my daughter’s bus turns a corner, she falls out of the seat because it’s so crowded,” she said. “I have two pictures I could show you right now of buses broken down during rush hour traffic. It’s very obvious these things are going on.”

NAACP chapter President Dot Scott said the organization doesn’t favor one school bus contract over another, and said their top concern is school childrens’ safety.

On Thursday, S.C. Rep. Wendell Gilliard sent a letter to Molly Spearman, State Superintendent of Education, requesting a “comprehensive safety inspection of all Durham school buses in Charleston County and any county owned school buses.”

The NAACP also addressed diversity issues at Charleston County schools, with emphasis on Academic Magnet High School — which has only 16 black students enrolled out of nearly 650 total students.

“Educating all children is vital,” said the chapter’s vice president, the Rev. Joseph Darby. “How do you have a school like that — Academic Magnet — and have so few black students? Too many of our young black males are going to prison instead of being educated and we have to fix it.”

Attendees raised concerns about segregation and the admissions process. Gwendolyn Robinson said she had two daughters graduate from Academic Magnet and that parents needed to “stop burying their heads in the sand” when it comes to diversity.

“Charleston County can produce good schools — my question is, why can’t they spread that wealth across the board?”

She said the solution involves the school district and everyone at the meeting looking beyond the hiring of the next superintendent — another topic discussed at the meeting.

Eric Mack was the only Charleston County school board member to attend the meeting and encouraged everyone to share their concerns to the entire board.

Reach Melissa Boughton at 937-5594 or at Twitter.com/mboughtonPC.