Category: School Choice

SC School Board Association leaves national group after pressure from parents, lawmakers

From the Greenville News:

Devyani Chhetri

Greenville News
Protesters gathered outside of the Greenville County Schools office Thursday morning as the school board met to to receive legal advice after a federal judge said on Tuesday that South Carolina cannot ban school districts from requiring masks in schools.

The South Carolina School Board Association has severed ties with the National School Board Association after pressure from state lawmakers and parents.

In a message sent to members Monday, the state school board association said that the national group had not done enough to mitigate the “negative impact” of a letter to the Biden administration, where NSBA had claimed that school boards around the country were being intimidated and threatened against COVID-19 safety measures.

The NSBA letter asked for federal intervention to protect educators and schools.

“We started hearing from local school boards that people in the community had concerns about the NSBA letter,” said Executive Director Scott Price when asked the specifics of the “negative impacts.”

“We just felt that in order to go ahead and hopefully keep that from continuing to grow and manifesting itself at the local level, it was in our best interest to take the steps that we took,” he said.

But what recourse did other educators and parents have who felt intimidated or threatened?

To that, Price said “especially now we’ve seen through the pandemic, they [school boards] do have meetings where people are vocal and are addressing concerns. But if the opportunity presents itself school boards can handle that either themselves or they can involve local law enforcement, if necessary.”

However, a federal intervention went against the values of South Carolina, which were centered around local decision making, he said.

To the question of whether the state association was responding to pressure, Price said that there was always pressure. “The pressure here was related to our membership,” he said.

In September, with debates of mask mandates and social distancing dominating meetings, the NSBA wrote a letter seeking “federal assistance to stop threats and acts of violence against public school-children, public school board members, and other public school district officials and educators.”

“As the threats grow and news of extremist hate organizations showing up at school board meetings is being reported, this is a critical time for a proactive approach to deal with this difficult issue,” the NSBA letter said.

Protesters gathered outside of the Greenville County Schools office Thursday morning as the school board met to to receive legal advice after a federal judge said on Tuesday that South Carolina cannot ban school districts from requiring masks in schools.

Soon after, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland issued a memo authorizing the FBI to investigate threats against school board members.

The language of NSBA’s letter did not sit well with several lawmakers and parents across the country. Multiple petitions demanding that state school board associations leave the national group came from several states.

In South Carolina, 36 GOP lawmakers signed a letter criticizing the NSBA and said that the threats of intimidation and harassment in schools were false. The lawmakers asked the state organization to withdraw its membership from the national group.

The state school board association called for a special meeting on Nov. 5 to discuss the timeline of events. “This decision [of leaving the national association] was not made lightly,” said SCBA’s letter to the national organization.

Rep. Stewart Jones, R-Laurens, who led a petition demanding the state association’s withdrawal said that he was thrilled by the news. “We’re defending the rights of parents to have that greater choice and education and I think this is a great sign,” he said.

Devyani Chhetri is the state government watchdog reporter. You can reach her at [email protected] or @ChhetriDevyani on Twitter.

Budget Amendments Could Strip Schools Funding if they require masks, covid testing, or vaccines

Updated: Jun. 10, 2021 at 1:44 PM EDT

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) – Three amendments to the House’s version of the South Carolina budget could strip state funding from public schools if they enforce mask mandates or require COVID-19 testing or COVID vaccines after July 1.

“This is a big concern to many parents. It’s caused a lot of confusion, a lot of frustration,” Representative Stewart Jones said. “It’s gotten to a level that’s just unbelievable.”

The provisos were approved Wednesday by the House of Representatives as a part of their version of the state’s budget.

“They withhold funding from those schools in the event they try to force someone to wear a mask or to get a vaccine in order to attend,” Jones explained. “We live in the greatest country in the world. I believe we are free people, and everybody should have the ability to decide if they want to do these things or not.”

With the State of Emergency lifted, Jones said one amendment would make mask-wearing voluntary for students and employees within K-12 public schools in South Carolina.

A second amendment makes masks and COVID-19 vaccines voluntary in state funded colleges in order to attend.

“A public institution of higher learning, including a technical college, may not use any funds appropriated or authorized pursuant to this act to require that its students have received the COVID-19 vaccination in order to be present at the institution’s facilities without being required to wear a facemask,” the proviso stated.

The third amendment makes COVID-19 testing voluntary in state funded colleges.

“Such public institutions may not use any funds to require or administer mandatory COVID-19 testing of its students,” the proviso stated. “Further, no agency or entity may use any funds appropriated or authorized in this act to assist a public institution of higher learning with such mandatory COVID-19 testing.”

“This became a really important step right now because the Governor has lifted the state of emergency,” Jones said. “After July 1, going into the next school year, it would allow people to have the flexibility to know that they have the freedom to do these things or not. And it doesn’t stop anyone from doing them. If someone wants to take the vaccine or wear a mask or take as many COVID tests as they want, then they have the freedom to do that. But what it does do is, it would stop state funding from going to K-12 schools or higher ed or colleges that try to force someone to wear a mask or take a vaccine.”

The amendments would cut off all state appropriations to an institution that violates the terms, however, there’s still some work to be done.

“We do need long-term solutions. This is just temporary,” Jones said. “This is kind of the next step in the process I think.”

Next week, some assigned lawmakers will review the House and Senate versions of the state budget. Then the entire general assembly will reconvene the following week to vote on the final version, which will need to be passed by June 30.

“As a parent of two young children who are in our public schools, I have seen and experienced first-hand a lot of the concerns over the whole pandemic. So, I stand with all these parents 100 percent and I understand their frustration,” Jones said. “This has been building. As we were going back to school, we started encountering a lot of these problems, and it was amazing how quickly a lot of it escalated. I think a lot of has to do with the fear…I think this will be a problem for a long time. Some people have this fear of COVID that has just paralyzed them, but we’ve got to come out of this…I believe people have a natural God-given right to freedom, to be free, to make their own decisions.”

In a statement, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control says they are waiting on guidance from the CDC before developing the state’s guidance for the 2022 academic year.

“DHEC recently made several updates to current guidance for schools and childcare for the remainder of the 2021 academic year,” DHEC said. “We anticipate CDC will publish updated school operations guidance for the 2022 academic year within the next few weeks. DHEC will review CDC’s updated school operations guidance once it is released in order to develop guidance for South Carolina schools. We plan to provide this as quickly as possible to allow districts and schools the time they need to plan for the upcoming year.”

Originally appeared on Live 5 News

Citizen Group Rallies Against $109 Million Referendum

The Common Sense Coalition for a Better High School hosted a Stop the Laurens District 55 Tax Hike Rally at the Laurens County Higher Education Center on Thursday night.

About 40 people heard Laurens County Republican Party Chair Keith Tripp and Laurens County Councilman Stewart Jones speak out against Laurens County School District 55’s proposed $109 million referendums to be held on Sept. 5, 2017. State Representatives Mike Pitts and Mark Willis were scheduled to speak but were not able to attend.

The Common Sense Coalition for a Better High School is a newly-formed group of Laurens County residents who are opposed to the $109 million tax referendum to build a new high school in District 55. Their mission is to “work to stop this referendum, plan rallies and discuss strategies.”

“Other meetings were controlled by the school district,” said Tripp. “A different perspective will be presented tonight. My main goal is to give us something to think about.”

Tripp talked about elitism when referring to District 55 and challenged the signage outside of LDHS, which reads “Every Student, Every Day, College Bound”.

“That says a lot about the thinking of the people that put that there,” said Tripp. “It says that all students are heading to the same place. What about plumbers and electricians and people that work with their hands.”

Tripp challenged the recent editorial from members of the District 55 board of trustees. He said that the editorial was arrogant and elitist. “It says that their decisions are not to be questioned,” said Tripp.

“The value of a school is dependent on the teachers and the students,” said Tripp. “The question is not what you want but what you need. You need to live within your means.”

Tripp said that he would like to see a school where students are taught the basic academics, where parents and children decide the best educational path, where students feel safe and are safe, where there are no drugs and gangs, and where teachers are respected.

“The main thing is to stop this $109 million grab for our tax money,” said Tripp. “We need to keep the main thing the main thing. If it is removed, if the referendum is withdrawn or if it is defeated, then we can look at other common sense plans.”

County Councilman Jones focused much of his speech on school choice and competition in public education. Jones is an advocate for a free market for education.

Jones attended two of the community forums hosted by District 55. “I was alarmed about some of the things said,” said Jones. “I was told to come with an open mind and what they meant was to come with an open wallet.”

Jones presented some ideas to improve the education system for taxpayers in Laurens County. He recommends combining District 55 and 56, fix current facilities and add additions, partner with business and industry, offer more online classes and allow school choice.

“A big new building does not make for a better education,” said Jones. “

Originally appeared in