School Board tables policy until Nov. after member questions fairness

By Melissa Rollins, Editor,

A policy for ‘Expanded School Choice” in Darlington County School District was pulled from the agenda during the Oct. 9 meeting over a board member Charles Govan’s concern that the choice program is not accessible to all students equally. The policy was on the agenda for a second and final reading.

“I would ask that we pull (policy) A from the agenda for further study,” Govan said. “My reason is that I have some concerns about the school choice policy as it presently is. We have about an 82, 83 percent poverty rate in this district. Choice allows children to go to another school, provided that they can provide transportation.”
Govan said that providing transportation to a school other than the one they are zoned for is not an option for many students.

“It is my opinion that that creates a problem for choice because in essence what we are really doing is allowing those children who have the ability to provide transportation to go and those who do not are kind of left by the wayside,” Govan said. “It also, in my opinion, allows for us to perpetuate, possibly, going back to a segregated situation. I think at this point we may be, in some of the elementary schools, out of balance as far as ratio. I would ask that we pull this policy from this agenda so we can have further study on it.”

Board chair Jamie Morphis said that he thought recent information provided to the board spoke to at least part of Govan’s concerns.

“Recently I was looking at all of the schools and the make-up of all of the schools and I think that you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the numbers at all of our schools,” Morphis said. “I think if you look at the racial make-up of all of our schools, I think it is even…I’m more than happy with the information we already have, they can just send that back out. I think we just received it a couple of weeks ago, either in a board meeting or an update. All of that information is already there but definitely look it over.”

District Public Information Officer Audrey Childers said that the policy will return to the agenda for the November meeting for a second reading.

“Mr. Govan wants us to look into the feasibility of providing transportation as part of the Expanded Choice Program,” Childers said. “He also wants us to get more information about how it impacts the diversity of our schools.”

In the school choice program a student can apply to attend another school in the district, provided that that school has space available. In the event that there is a large volume of applications for a particular school, a lottery process will be used to select students to attend. Once a student is selected they must accept by a set deadline and they can continue to attend the school until they move up to the next grad-span school, an example being moving from middle school to high school. If at the end of the first semester the student chooses to return to the school they were originally zoned for, they can submit a written request to the district to do that.

Magnet programs are not included in the school choice program and must be applied for separately. The child development program is also excluded from choice. Students who choose to attend schools other than the one for which they are zoned must provide their own transportation.

The Expanded Choice program has been in the district for around 10 years and this policy simply lays out the guidelines for it.

In other business, after another lengthy executive session, the board made a motion to move forward with another land purchase.

A release from the district said that “Monday night the board voted to authorize the acting superintendent to enter into a contract to purchase property for Project B as discussed in Monday night’s executive session, with a copy of the contract to be made available to the public in accordance with the SC Freedom of Information Act. We will wait to release the transaction details, including seller’s name, property location, or the sales price, until the negotiations are completed and the deed is recorded. Releasing the information before then could impact ongoing negotiations. Once the deed is recorded, we will release the information as required by the SC Freedom of Information Act.”

Author: Duane Childers

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