About 75 parents and residents rallied at Tuesday's Beaufort County Board of Education meeting to protest the proposed closing of the Port Royal and Shell Point elementary schools.
Many of the 20 people who spoke wore "Save Our Schools" stickers that featured a red-and-white life preserver. A Lady's Island man read a two-minute poem that included this stanza: "One-hundred years of history will not end today; Port Royal and Shell Point, we demand both will stay."
Another parent told the board his son looked terrified when he learned Port Royal Elementary might close.
"He looked just totally baffled," said Richard Kook. "Why is my school closing?" he said his son asked. "So my wife and I kind of looked at each other and didn't know what to say."
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Cathy Emmert announced the formation of a Shell Point Charter School committee, which hopes to lease or purchase the Shell Point Elementary building if the public school is closed.
"We have every intention of seeing this venture through," Emmert said. "This was not our first choice, but it may be our best choice."
The school board is expected to vote on the closures during a work session that begins at 10 a.m. Friday. That meeting, held at district offices at 2900 Mink Point Blvd. in Beaufort, is open to the public, but the board will not take comments from the public.
A task force studying 2012-13 school year closures voted 5-4 on July 13 to close the two schools, which supporters say would save $2 million annually and eliminate empty seats in the district.
Michelle Morgan, who served on that task force, characterized the group's decision as political and said members from different areas of the county "were somewhat pitted against each other to defend our clusters."
Morgan argued there's an easier fix.
"Rezoning the whole Beaufort-Mossy Oaks area would resolve many of these so-called empty seat problems north of the Broad," she said.
Community members said the board should think beyond financial considerations and consider how a closure would impact students. They argued the Port Royal and Shell Point schools are pillars of their communities and allow children to walk to school. Some called on the district to find savings elsewhere in its budget in order to keep the schools open.
"We're asking that you look even closer -- to the coffee that you order, to the extra chair that is not necessary," said Ed Fu.
Chairman Fred Washington encouraged those in attendance to stay vigilant and involved in the process.
"I hope that as parents and community members, that your involvement becomes year-round, and not just if your and when your school is threatened," he said. "Public education is important and it requires full-time commitment and investment to it."
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Protesters organize for school board meeting aimed at Shell Point and Port Royal elementary closings, Aug 1, 2011
Board will vote Aug. 5 on recommendation to close Port Royal and Shell Point schools, July 21, 2011
Panel votes to close Shell Point, Port Royal elementaries, postpones final decision, July 13, 2011