Beaufort News

District to revise Riverview's enrollment methods

The Beaufort County Board of Education rejected the procedures Riverview Charter School developed to enroll students for next school year, saying they are not likely to reach diversity goals set by the federal Office for Civil Rights.

The board instead on Tuesday directed school district staff to come up with a plan for meeting those targets.

"Let's move expeditiously on this so we can get it done," school board Chairman Fred Washington Jr. said.

Robert White, chairman of the Riverview board, said the school will work with the district to develop new possibilities for the school's enrollment lottery and address concerns.

"Hopefully we can move this thing along and have a lottery at a reasonable point in the year and move on," he said.

Riverview postponed the lottery it hoped to hold this week after both the school district and OCR raised concerns about its methods.

A letter from an OCR attorney last week reiterated it is the school district's responsibility to ensure the charter school operates in accordance with a 1970 desegregation agreement that binds the county's public schools. To comply, Riverview has to reduce its percentage of white students and increase the number of black students over the next few years.

The school is confident it will exceed its target of enrolling at least 15.7 percent black students this fall. But test lotteries using the procedures rejected by the school board suggested it was unlikely Riverview could meet the goal of enrolling no more than 63.7 percent white students.

County school board members said they must uphold their end of the OCR agreement and make sure Riverview is meeting both targets.

"We are under direction from OCR that you meet them, or we shall revoke your charter," board member Wayne Carbiener said. "It doesn't say 'you may,' it says 'you shall.' "

The OCR lawyer's letter said the school district should evaluate whether Riverview made sufficient good faith efforts to create a diverse applicant pool and consider how Riverview's policy of giving priority admissions to some students affects diversity.

Riverview policy gives automatic admission to the children of staff and members of the committee that formed the school, as well as to students' siblings. About two-thirds of the students with priority status this year are white.

School officials said they believe honoring priority status is essential because it allows families to stay together, which encourages parental involvement. About a half-dozen Riverview parents echoed those sentiments at Tuesday's county school board meeting.

White said the school's goal is to work with the district to identify lottery procedures that will allow Riverview to honor priority status and meet the minority-enrollment targets.

Riverview and school district officials met Wednesday morning to begin work on retooling the lottery procedures.