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South Carolina legislators ask school board to delay changes to Charleston magnet schools

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75 Calhoun Street (copy)

Charleston County School District office at 75 Calhoun St. A group of lawmakers have asked the school district to delay any changes to magnet schools. File/Staff

Charleston County legislators are voicing their concerns over potential sweeping changes to the district's magnet schools.

All but one of the Charleston County legislative delegation’s 22 members signed a letter asking the Charleston County School District superintendent and board chairman to postpone any official action on magnet schools until lawmakers are provided with a full copy of any proposals.

The letter, released Friday, also asked that legislators get a chance to meet with the board and an opportunity to discuss the changes with parents and taxpayers.

“We do not make this request lightly but in all honesty, there is more confusion and concern being expressed about these proposals and the direction of our public schools that at any time in recent memory,” the letter read.

As the school district grapples with big decisions designed to make Charleston schools more equitable for all students, some community members have spoken out against possible changes to the district's magnet schools.

One suggestion the district has presented would remove the partial magnet status for schools including James B. Edwards Elementary, Jerry Zucker Middle, West Ashley Middle, Haut Gap Middle, C.E. Williams Middle, Mitchell Elementary and Memminger Elementary.

If passed, the changes to partial magnets would take effect as early as the next school year.

Under this plan, existing students who live outside of the school’s regular attendance zone would be grandfathered in, and transportation would be provided for at least one year. The school’s programs and its extra resources would still remain, according to a district presentation on Oct. 28.

Partial magnets have been criticized by some district officials for pulling students away from the school they were originally zoned for, also known as “neighborhood schools," which can result in lower enrollment and, consequentially, fewer resources. 

But partial magnets aren't the only schools that could be affected by the district's changes. The district is also considering admission changes to elite countywide magnet schools like Buist Academy for Advanced Studies and Academic Magnet High School.

“We are getting an inordinate amount of contact from public school parents that are confused and even angry over what is going on and don’t understand it,” said Rep. Leon Stavrinakis, D-Charleston.

Stavrinakis was one of the lawmakers who spearheaded the letter, along with Sen. Marlon Kimpson, D-Charleston, and Rep. Peter McCoy, R-Charleston.

“We've got these other schools where kids are being failed year after year, and that is, in my view, where the focus needs to be,” Stavrinakis said. “I just cannot believe how much energy we've spent talking about Academic Magnet, School of the Arts, Buist, Ashley River — these schools where kids are doing great.”

“Do I want more kids to have those opportunities? Absolutely. But you don't have to mess with those schools and put them at risk and unsettle kids and parents in order to make that happen,” he continued.

He emphasized that the letter "isn't a shot at the district."

"Our delegation cares about public schools cares, cares about the kids in them, cares about the parents who are paying for them and whose kids are in them," Stavrinakis said. 

Board member Kevin Hollinshead also thinks the district’s possible proposals need more time before any action is taken.

“For the delegation to send a letter like this out is a serious issue,” he said.

“I do believe in diversity and I do believe those schools need to improve diversity, but we have to be very careful about how we do that,” Hollinshead said. “You don’t throw people into a situation without vetting it and making sure that kids are comfortable and doing that because you can cause more harm than good.”

Board Chairman Eric Mack has scheduled a meeting for board members to meet with legislators Friday morning.

"We received your letter requesting to better understand the suggested changes that are being recommended, in our effort to ensure academic equity for all CCSD students," Mack wrote in a response to the delegation.

"We will share information that has been shared during our public listening sessions, and hear your concerns," he continued. 

Hollinshead and board member Priscilla Jeffery both said they would attend.

“I don’t mind sitting down and talking with them. We have a certain jurisdiction, and they do, too," Jeffery said, "and I’m happy to talk about anything with anybody.”

Jeffery, who also chairs the board's Strategic Education Committee, argued that one reason why some schools in Charleston County are still largely segregated today is that “nobody likes change.”

“That’s what I’m learning through this process,” Jeffery said. “We do need to change some things and certain groups of people don’t want the changes to affect them.

“We have 50,000 students. That’s what we should be focusing on as a school board — what’s working the best for all of our students,” she continued.

The board will likely review possible district recommendations and establish a timeline to vote on some of those recommendations at the upcoming Committee of the Whole meeting on Nov. 11. 

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Contact Jenna Schiferl at 843-937-5764. Follow her on Twitter at @jennaschif. 

Jenna Schiferl was born and raised in Columbia, South Carolina and is a graduate of the University of South Carolina. She has worked as an education reporter for The Post and Courier since 2019.

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