ANOTHER VIEW ‌ Choice or Segregation? 

A proposed charter school raises questions of racism

The proposed math/science charter high school downtown is being viewed through a prism whose facets reflect very different pictures for peninsula residents.

One side of the prism reflects, to some residents, choices for a quality public education currently unavailable at Burke High, the peninsula's only public high school.

But another side reflects an elite, almost totally racially segregated enclave for the peninsulas's upper crust. An exclusive enclave they control.

Potentially receiving about $500,000 from the S.C. Department of Education for the development and implementation of the proposed charter school, proponents are set to make their view a reality despite vehement opposition from the Charleston Branch of the NAACP.

The NAACP is opposed to the development of the charter high school because it represents an opportunity for whites on the peninsula who have abandoned the public school system to create a high school they control, says the branch's president, Dorothy Scott.

Scott says her organization's members are not deceived by the Committee for the Charleston Charter School for Math & Science when it says the proposed new high school is merely an initiative to put a quality high school on the peninsula.

If white parents want a quality high school, that opportunity is possible at Burke, Scott says, though the school is currently under threat of state takeover for its continued low performance and a graduation rate of about only 27 percent.

Still, the newly renovated Burke High — constructed for 1,200 students with an enrollment of 700 — could easily accommodate a math and science accentuate program, says Scott. But whites downtown won't let their children attend school with blacks, she protests.

While the NAACP has been vocal in its protests, criticism of the proposed charter high isn't widespread among downtown black residents. But that doesn't mean black residents don't view the proposal with suspicion.

Blacks downtown are an apathetic lot. Like bumps on a log, they tend to sit undisturbed by anything short of an act of God. Much of the discussion about the proposed charter is limited to small intimate groups.

More often than not those discussions reflect the NAACP perspective.

Downtown black residents don't get involved in a lot of formal debate, but that doesn't mean they don't have opinions.

They point to the absence of whites in downtown public schools as evidence of white parents' reluctance to send their kids to the peninsula's predominantly black public schools. Only at Buist Academy, the county's best-performing elementary school, is the white community represented in any noticeable numbers.

Compared to the peninsula's seven other schools, where whites comprise less than five percent of the student population, whites represent about 70 percent of the students at Buist.

The Charleston County School District has done a poor job of managing downtown public schools, Park Dougherty, chairman of the charter school committee, believes. A charter school would offer parents the advantage of choosing not just the school's curriculum, but also who would teach that curriculum.

For Dougherty and his group of parents the charter school represents choices and control, while for Scott and the NAACP it represents the next step to segregated public schools on the peninsula — Buist being the first step.

Dougherty promises the charter school will have a countywide enrollment and at least a 30 percent black student population. Legally, it must come within 20 percent of the county's 54 percent black student population.

The promise of equal access was made 20 years ago when Buist opened. Today only about 15 percent of its students are black.

Choices or segregation? Only time will tell.


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