Parents of Fraser Elementary School students have filed a complaint with the federal Office for Civil Rights requesting an investigation into whether race played a role in the Charleston County School Board's decision to close five schools.
The school district has a history of closing schools in black communities, and parents want an outside authority to determine whether this decision, which they say fits that pattern, has been motivated by race.
"Nobody wants to say it, even we didn't want to say it, even though we felt it," said Latonya Gamble, a parent of three Fraser students, who filed the complaint on behalf of parents. "We tried to be diplomatic, but we all felt it. Everybody in the room felt it."
About a dozen parents signed on to the complaint that claims racial discrimination, and they are asking others to write letters of support. The complaint requests that the civil rights office look at each of the five schools that will be closed this year.
The five — Brentwood Middle, Charlestowne Academy, Fraser Elementary, McClellanville Middle and Schroder Middle — enroll nearly 1,600 students, 72 percent of whom are black. Fewer than 75 white students attend the five schools that will be closed.
The school board asked the superintendent last year to come up with ideas to save money, including the closing of schools. District officials developed criteria to evaluate schools, including poor student achievement, declining enrollment, excess building space and high per pupil costs. The five schools that will close mostly fit the criteria, with Charlestowne Academy often being the exception.
Officials recommended Charlestowne Academy for closure, they said, because it hadn't fulfilled its mission as a parent-driven school, and low enrollment limited its ability to offer a comprehensive high school curriculum.
School Board Chairwoman Toya Green said the board's decision wasn't motivated by race; it was motivated by budget constraints and educational quality.
The school district faces a projected $28 million shortfall next year, and closing five schools will save an estimated $5.3 million. The budget predicament was the biggest motivator for the closings, she said.
Although the criteria were based on objective facts, the board made a judgment call on what it thought was best for improving schools and cutting its budget, she said.
"The judgment had nothing to do with race," Green said.
The board intends to track students' educational progress with the goal of providing better options, she said.
Gamble said many in the school community don't understand the criteria because not every school fit the requirements. She also questioned how the district planned to improve education for students by sending them to other failing schools.
"I don't understand that rationale," she said.