As the Charleston County School Board is set to make final votes on dozens of controversial changes to magnet schools next week, some parents, community members and legislators have expressed anger, confusion and frustration over the most recent round of proposals. And some are taking steps to possibly intervene.
School district officials have been working for more than two years to create solutions for the county schools mired with inequity, but the process hasn’t been an easy one.
Some of the proposals presented over the past three months have been met with intense skepticism from community members.
The board gave initial approval to some of the contentious plans in November. Board members decided to push off final decisions on some of the more controversial changes until Monday, after facing community pushback, pressure from Charleston County legislators and an organized protest outside the boardroom last month.
“We are getting hounded by our constituents because they do not have any confidence in what the board is doing,” said Sen. Sandy Senn, R-Charleston. “I can understand their concerns. The board has flip-flopped back and forth.”
Senn and other members of the Charleston County legislative delegation will meet with the school board Friday, just three days before the board is set to take final votes on proposed changes.
“We hope that the school board will take our viewpoint into consideration. If we don't, we're going to make it clear to them that we're not stopping with just asking them to do the right thing,” Senn said.
The changes presented for some Charleston schools are “so drastic,” Senn said, that they might be enough to spark legislative action.
“You may find enough of us to vote for local legislation that would not allow them to make the changes they’re wanting to make without a referendum,” Senn said.
Rep. Leon Stavrinakis, D-Charleston, said he and other legislators have drafted potential legislation in response to the school board’s decisions.
“If the meeting doesn’t go well tomorrow, then I’m going to roll it out pretty much immediately, maybe Monday at the latest,” Stavrinakis said. “I’m not trying to replace the school district’s judgment with my own. If we do something, it will be to empower parents and taxpayers who have very clearly communicated that they feel ignored and misled.”
Stavrinakis declined to provide any details about what the proposed legislation might entail.
Legislators like Senn and Stavrinakis said they’ve both been contacted by parents and community members displeased with the school district’s process.
“They’ve moved forward and have created a lot of additional anxiety, anger and distrust,” Stavrinakis said.
Some parents have found keeping up with all of the changes to the district's proposals a difficult task.
“Throughout this entire process, seven months and counting, constituents have struggled to stay current with the ever-changing radical proposals,” said Elizabeth Hamilton, who has children at Buist Academy for Advanced Studies.
When the agendas for the board's two meetings on Monday were posted Wednesday, many proposals that received initial approval in November had been modified, including ones to Buist, Memminger Elementary, Sullivan’s Island Elementary, Academic Magnet High School and St. Andrew's School of Math and Science.
“It’s exhausting and a barrier to advocating when our attempts to clarify and understand and educate regarding one proposal become a moot point when a substantively different proposal is presented with two business days before the board is prepared to take action,” Hamilton said.
Vice Chairwoman Kate Darby and board member Priscilla Jeffery said the changes were made based on community feedback the board had received.
“Yes, the changes are different than what we talked about in our November meeting, but I think they’re improvements,” Darby said.
Jeffery said the changes were based on community feedback and emphasized the board's goal of creating equity for all students.
“I think when people could get away from thinking about their own child in their own school and realize that we have to think about all the kids, which is hard in a 100-mile-long district with 85 schools that are really unequal,” she said.
Since the board’s committee of the whole meeting and regular meetings are combined on one day this month, the board could effectively introduce a new proposal and give it a second and final vote in the span of a few hours, said board member Cindy Bohn Coats.
“You are supposed to give the public time to ask questions, ask their elected officials, vet the proposals, whatever. In this scenario, they're going to say, ‘Forget what you voted on in November, we want you to vote this,'” Coats said. “And not only that, an hour later we want you to implement it with a formal board vote. That gives me heartburn.”
Board members will meet with the legislative delegation at 10 a.m. Friday at 75 Calhoun St.
The committee of the whole meeting is scheduled to start at 1 p.m. Monday. Public comments are scheduled for 1:10 p.m.
The regular board meeting is scheduled to start at 4:15 p.m., with public comments set for 5:45 and 8:30 p.m.
Meeting agendas can be found online at https://go.boarddocs.com/sc/charleston/Board.nsf/vpublic?open.