Hardeeville parents sue school board to stop consolidation

rheaton@beaufortgazette.comJuly 11, 2012 

Two Hardeeville parents are suing the Jasper County School District Board of Trustees in an effort to stop the consolidation of the district's middle schools and high schools.

Priscilla Green and Ransom Dunham filed suit against the district in Jasper County Court on Wednesday. Both have students at Hardeeville High School, attorney Darrell Thomas Johnson Jr. said.

The suit alleges the vote to consolidate the schools was illegal because one board member voted by phone -- something the board has no bylaws governing, the suit alleges. The suit also claims that moving the high school from Hardeeville will harm the city and its citizens, and isn't true to the intent of a recent multi-million dollar, voter-approved bond used to build the Hardeeville campus.

The suit also alleges Green and Dunham have been harassed and intimidated, along with other vocal opponents of the consolidation. Johnson declined to elaborate.

In an email from school district attorney Ken Childs' office, the district says the allegations are "without merit" and that the inconvenience and expense of a lawsuit is regrettable.

Johnson said his clients want a temporary order to stop consolidation of the schools before they are scheduled to open Aug. 20.

In related news, the Jasper County School District will remain in control of Ridgeland Middle School, the S.C. Board of Education determined Wednesday.

The state board voted to approve the district's improvement plan for the failing school and continue providing it with state assistance -- both in dollars and in professional development for teachers.

A handful of speakers -- including Jasper County School District Board of Trustee members Randy Horton and Barbara Clark -- asked the state board to reject the district plan at a hearing Wednesday morning. They objected to the district's consolidation of Ridgeland and Hardeeville middle schools and Ridgeland and Hardeeville high schools.

But S.C. Superintendent Mick Zais said the state school board wasn't there to weigh in on the consolidation of the schools, calling that a local issue.

Jasper County superintendent Vashti Washington called the state board's decision a "victory for the children," and said she's confident the district's plan will turn the school around if the community gets behind it.

Ridgeland Middle was one of seven statewide with persistent performance problems that put it in jeopardy of state takeover.

The state board could have voted to appoint a new principal for the seven schools, take over management, or continue providing state assistance.

Zais said he didn't think any of those options were particularly good. Instead, he announced plans to propose a statewide school district for failing schools. That plan would require changing state law, though, and isn't currently an option.

So, for each of the seven schools, Zais recommended -- with some caveats -- that the districts keep control and receive state assistance. The state school board approved each district's plan.

The plan to turn around Ridgeland Middle includes more professional development for teachers; extended learning days similar to a program that has been used in Beaufort County; and incentive pay for teachers based on student performance.

The plan also includes offering stronger curriculum, including more advanced courses -- part of the district's plan to consolidate its middle and high schools.

Related content

  1. Ridgeland Middle's fate to be decided by state school board; July 9, 2012
  2. Jasper County School District's Challenge to Achieve plan
  3. Details emerge in Jasper County school-consolidation plans; June 26, 2012

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