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CCSD Board Members Walkout To Protest Discrimination Targeted At Black Schools
5/25/2016 4:45:29 PM

(l-r) Rev. Chris Collins, Michael Miller & Rev. Eric Mack, the three African-American members of the Charleston County School Board, address the media after walking out of the School Board Meeting Monday evening. Photo: Tolbert Smalls, Jr.
By Barney Blakeney

The three African American members on Charleston County School Board - Rev. Chris Collins, Rev. Eric Mack and Michael Miller - surprised their colleagues and others at Monday’s regular board meeting when they walked out in protest of the school district’s recent decision to close rural predominantly Black Lincoln Middle High School.

At the start of the meeting and after reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, Collins interrupted the proceedings to tell his colleagues and those in attendance the trio of Black board members no longer would participate in board meetings because of the board’s disparate actions. “Good evening and good night,” he said before rising to lead Mack, Miller and some 75 or more protesters shouting “No justice, no peace” from the board room.

Outside the board room Miller told reporters Lincoln’s closure was the tipping point in a pattern of practices that unfairly targeted predominantly Black schools for adverse discrimination. Lincoln’s closure is one among many issues that prompts the members to use their voices in unified protest. “Silence gives consent,” he said.

Mack said other issues the members are protesting include the district’s failure to recruit and hire Black teachers and school administrators. In the district, where about 50 percent of students are Black, only about 13 percent of its approximately 450 teachers are Black.

“The district must look like the population it serves,” he said.

After the meeting board member Tom Ducker said he isn’t sure what was the objective of walking out of the board meeting. If the objective was to attract media attention or demonstrate solidarity with those in the public who come to board meetings and yell at members, that objective was achieved, he said. But walking out of the meeting does not equate to standing for a cause.

“If they’re demanding that Lincoln be reopened, that’s not gonna happen. You’ve got to look forward. The thing to do is meet with the superintendent. The board is committed to fast tracking the construction of a new school in Awendaw,” Ducker said. “I’d like to see them help plan what that school is going to have.

“In the meantime, we need to see what we can do to help the students who will be transferred from Lincoln,” Ducker said. “Walking out is like cutting off your nose to spite your face. They’ve separated themselves from the majority of the board and put themselves in a position where the majority of the board is not going to be receptive. Rather than walking out, they should be finding ways to solve the problem.”

Miller said Tuesday he doesn’t know what impact the walkout will have, but he hopes the remaining board members realize there still is room for conversation and deliberation. Several viable alternatives to Lincoln’s closure never was put on the table, he said. Sometimes you must make people uncomfortable, he added.

“This is not a story about Lincoln,” Miller said. “Lincoln is just a microcosm of the district’s failures regarding predominantly Black schools. This is a story about the academic achievement gap, hiring minority teachers and principals, minority business participation in the district’s contract awards, hiring a chief diversity officer and a number of issues that need to be addressed,” he said.

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