The Charleston County School Board has given final approval to broad, sweeping, and sometimes controversial changes affecting more than 40 of the district's 87 schools and programs.
A handful of the proposals have sparked intense scrutiny and pushback from community members who said the board's process lacked transparency and adequate vetting.
Board members voted to proceed with most of the controversial proposals during Monday's meeting, including a merger of two West Ashley middle schools, combining three North Charleston elementary schools, and creating an "acceleration zone" for low-performing schools that may receive exemptions from certain state regulations.
But they agreed to scrap a contentious plan to close a rural public school in Hollywood.
The decision was a victory for the hundreds of advocates that showed up in waves to protest the proposal to close Minnie Hughes Elementary, a public school near Hollywood, and relocate its students to E. B. Ellington Elementary.
The plan got initial approval last week on a 5-4 vote. Board members Cindy Bohn Coats, Chris Collins, Joyce Green and Kevin Hollinshead opposed it.
Last week's vote led to outcry from concerned Minnie Hughes parents and community members who argued that closing the school would disrupt the fabric of their rural, close-knit community and would lead to long bus commute and safety concerns for Minnie Hughes' students.
The proposal was up for a final vote Monday, but Board Chairman Eric Mack soon introduced a motion to remove it from the agenda. It passed unanimously and was met with thunderous applause and cheers.
“Thank you to the entire board for what you have done tonight,” said Josephine Matthews, the constituent board chair for District 23, “As a community, we are cheering. My heart is lifted.”
While the move marked a victory for Minnie Hughes advocates, it came with conditions.
Mack said he opposed the merge "at this time" and introduced a plan to create a committee of district officials and members of the District 23 Constituent School Board “to come up with an amicable resolution to address this current education dilemma.”
For some, that meant their fight to save the school was far from over.
“This is just the beginning of a long journey,” said Tiffany Deas-Smalls, a Minnie Hughes parent and advocate. “We don’t want to have to revisit this years down the line. We want it to be set in stone where we don’t have to go through this again.”
Marsha Aleem, a community advocate and former Minnie Hughes student, agreed.
“My concern is who will be on the committee that is going to consider what’s going to work,” Aleem said. “Happy tears today, but a lot of fear of the unknown that’s still to come.”
Others attended Monday’s meeting to voice concerns for other proposals, including a plan to merge West Ashley Middle and C.E. Williams Middle schools, a plan to combine Combine Lambs, Hunley Park and Goodwin elementary schools, and a plan to establish an “acceleration zone” for 15 low-performing schools.
All three proposals passed, but not after debate among board members and a heated response from some in the audience. Some attending shouted out “Lies!” and "That's not true!" as board members discussed the changes.
One woman was escorted out of the room after yelling "What you're doing is (expletive)," as board members weighed details of merging the two West Ashley middle schools by putting all sixth-graders at West Ashley Middle or another location and all seventh- and eighth-graders at C.E. Williams Middle.
Board members gave final approval to close Mary Ford Elementary and transition it to an early childhood center. Mary Ford students will be rezoned to Chicora Elementary.
The board also gave final approval to instruct district staff to analyze the impact of combining, merging or rezoning all schools with fewer than 500 students over the next five years.
The next board meeting is scheduled for Dec. 16, when board members will likely cast the final vote on a handful of other controversial changes to partial magnet schools, Buist Academy for Advanced Studies, Memminger Elementary and Academic Magnet High School.
The School Board's votes Monday marked a milestone along its "mission critical" plan to increase equity among the district's many public schools and to address its lowest performing schools.