Residents plan meeting to fight school closures

By Greg Oliver
Courtesy The Journal

COUNTY — The Pickens County School Board’s decision to close Holly Springs and A.R. Lewis elementary schools at the end of the current academic year has ignited emotions from supporters in the county.
Those supporters are now fighting back.
Johnnelle Raines, a retired educator and one of the leaders in the fight, announced Thursday that a Pickens County community meeting will take place from 7-8 p.m. April 12. The meeting will take place at the Pickens Senior Center, located at 129 Schoolhouse St. in Pickens.
“This meeting will provide updates on the three plans in place to fight back against this decision, which was clearly against the will of the people of Pickens County,” Raines said.
Raines said the three plans consist of a lawsuit, charter school and refusing the spring high-stakes tests.
“Grassroots activists will be our speakers, and hopefully we will try our best to answer questions about the plans,” Raines said. “Donations will be accepted to pay for the retainer fee of our lawyer we have retained.”
Don Joslyn, who is also among the citizens seeking to keep the schools open, said the services of Lancaster attorney Elizabeth Hyatt have been secured. Hyatt earned her Juris Doctor degree from the University of South Carolina School of Law in 1992, and while in law school clerked for a firm that specialized in education law.
“We are looking to file legal paperwork with the county against the school board,” Joslyn said. “We feel they’re breaking the law in that, while there are exceptions, closing the schools and consolidating more students is forcing them to ride the bus longer. State law says students are not to ride on buses longer than 90 minutes, although there are exceptions.
“The other legal stance is that the school board hasn’t notified the parents of special-needs children since there’s a law that indicates you have to notify parents of a special-needs child if you’re going to reposition the child.”
But Joslyn admits the law is “very vague” on whether repositioning a special-needs student means moving them from one school or one classroom to another. But he said the legal action the group is exploring is more based on the ramifications of the board’s decision.
Joslyn said he has contacted the state director of transportation regarding the busing of students.
Dan Trouten, who is also part of the group, said the board’s recent action “is of great concern to many of us in Pickens County for the obvious rush to close the schools.” Trouten said many parents of children with educational challenges “have not even been contacted, let alone involved, as the law requires.”
“The School District of Pickens County already doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to protecting the civil rights of these students,” Trouten said. “A free and appropriate public education for all students is the responsibility of every citizen to protect. Individuals at the school district and some members of the board seem to have forgotten that they work for ‘we the people.’ A large group of citizens have joined together in an effort to remind them.”
Raines also said parents are being encouraged to fill out the test refusal form for South Carolina’s Common Core-aligned standardized testing in order to gain the Pickens County School Board’s attention for its decision to close “two proven effective schools” in Holly Springs and A.R. Lewis and to rein in “the negative impact of high-stakes testing on children, their families, teachers and society as a whole.” The effort is being led by South Carolina Parents Involved in Education, the local chapter of United States Parents Involved in Education.
USPIE and SCPIE are calling for the school district to accept parental decisions to refuse the standardized tests and ask the school district to provide “educationally appropriate, non-punitive responses, including alternative settings and activities for the child whose parents have refused the test.”
Those planning to attend the community meeting have been asked by Raines to park in the rear and enter through the rear entrance. Once inside, they can turn left down the hallway, and the meeting will take place in the multi-purpose room.
For more information regarding the meeting, contact Raines at (704) 860-0648 or