I am writing as the parent of a student who was compelled to make the transition from AR Lewis Elementary to Hagood Elementary this year. Although the teachers and staff at Hagood have gone above and beyond any normal demands to meet the needs of my son, it has not been easy. AR Lewis was not just a school; it was part of our identity.
Ten months ago, the SDPC presented the parents with logical reasons why there was no option to closing two highly valued schools. The two most frequently cited justifications for closing AR Lewis were lack of funds and the inefficiency of keeping the doors open for only two hundred and twenty-five students. The affected school communities met both of these arguments with harsh criticism and disapproval. Record numbers of people attended the Board meetings to oppose the closings in spite of these meetings being scheduled before sunrise at 6:30 am on Saturday mornings. In response to the outpouring of community opposition, the Board put together a team consisting of respected community leaders, involved parents and teachers, tasked with exploring all options to closing the schools. The efforts of many dedicated people and hundreds of hours of work resulted in several viable recommendations being made. In spite of these efforts, the SDPC rushed their motion to close our schools at the speed of light.
Less than a year later, it is thoroughly clear that the Board leadership chose to close these beloved schools as a matter of preference over need. The most recent press release from the SDPC states that the Board has passed a motion to re-open AR Lewis as an alternative school serving just seventy students. The same maintenance budget will be required as it would for an elementary school serving three times the number of students. The Board also claims that the alternative school is mandated by the state of South Carolina. Reading the state policy, however, an alternative school is a choice given to each district. If the alternative school was mandated or chosen, however, why did the SDPC close the alternative school we had a few years ago?
As I questioned how such a turn of events could be occurring, I discovered that the motion to use AR Lewis as an alternative school was made during yet another last minute, specially called meeting with no public input, held on a Friday morning at 8:00 a.m. This clearly demonstrates that neither the administration nor our current Board representatives have any desire to include parents or tax payers in the decision making process.
Re-opening AR Lewis as an alternative school serving a fraction of the students defies the SDPC's own logic. Why is it valued for at-risk students, but not for a much larger number of vulnerable children in the county? We have many, many questions for the Board Members of Pickens County and SDPC. These questions will never be satisfactorily answered, however, as it is crystal clear that their statements surrounding these closings have been made with a deliberate intent to deceive. Although we, as a community must move forward, the unnecessary pain and strife caused by this administration and board member panel will thrive for many years.