Advocates for Minnie Hughes Elementary want the Charleston County School District to know that they’re willing to fight — at board meetings, in a courthouse, or even protesting in the streets — to keep the Hollywood school’s doors open.
“We’re not backing down. We’re going forward. We’re tired of being cut short what belongs to us,” said Constituent District 23 Board Member Charles Glover. “We will march.”
Glover was one of a dozen or so people who spoke at Monday’s board meeting to voice their disapproval of a school district proposal that would close Minnie Hughes Elementary and move its students to E.B. Ellington Elementary.
More than 50 Minnie Hughes supporters made the hour-long drive to the board room at 75 Calhoun St. to protest the proposed school closure.
Many of them wore stickers that read “No Closure." The district opened an overflow room to accommodate the crowd.
Many Minnie Hughes advocates said safety was among their concerns: If the school is closed, its students would have to board a bus as early as 5:30 or 6 a.m., when it’s still dark out, to arrive on time at E.B. Ellington, 13 miles away.
“We want to know what has to be done to keep our children out of harms’ way,” said state Rep. Robert Brown, D-Hollywood, who was among those urging that Minnie Hughes remain open.
Others were concerned that its closure would erode the fabric of the close-knit, rural community.
“It’s easy to see why low enrollment is a good reason to cut operating costs," Brown said, "but in rural communities, you have to give consideration to travel time, safety and the community itself.”
Edna Nesbitt is a former Minnie Hughes teacher. As a child, she attended the school herself. Now, she has a grandchild who attends.
"Our schools are the lifeline of our community," she said. "I’m going to stay right there, and I’m gonna fight for it."
The proposal to close Minnie Hughes was first brought to the school board on Sept. 16 as part of the district’s larger plan to create more equitable opportunities for all students. District officials have argued that consolidating smaller schools will allow for more resources and funding.
“The research and the data that we've done shows if we can have an elementary school that has at least 500 kids, we can just offer so much more to them,” said Kate Darby, the school board’s vice-chair. “And that’s really what this discussion is about.”
Darby emphasized that no formal vote has been taken on Minnie Hughes yet.
Minnie Hughes advocates worry that the school's shuttering will lead to larger class sizes and less one-on-one student attention, and some say E.B. Ellington is already at capacity and would require extensive renovation to house 200 more students.
Board member Chris Collins said he is opposed to closing Minnie Hughes, adding, "There’s no academic or economic sense behind the whole idea. It’s just ludicrous."
Earlier this month, Superintendent Gerrita Postlewait acknowledged the feedback the district has received from its community listening sessions and noted the opposition that community members already had expressed regarding closing Minnie Hughes.
Darby acknowledged the feedback, too.
"The board definitely hears the support from Minnie Hughes," she said. "People gave me things to think about, and I'm sure gave other board members things to think about, which I will certainly do."
The board could vote on the proposal as early as its Nov. 11 meeting.
This isn't the first time a proposed school closure has sparked fierce community opposition. A separate proposal to close Mitchell Elementary and redistribute its students to other schools also was a talking point at previous board meetings and community listening sessions.