By Barney Blakeney
The Rev. Chris Collins, Charleston County School Board’s longest serving member, often exemplifies the board’s dubious reputation as controversial. He took another stab at demonstrating that characteristic by asking Superintendent Dr. Gerrita Postlewait through various email requests to intervene in the selection process and expedite his daughter’s admission to the Charleston County School of the Arts. He could face ethical consequences as a result.
Word of Collins’ email communications with Postlewait surfaced last week in a local daily newspaper report. Obviously someone let the cat out of the bag, said one school board member in explaining how a news reporter got the information. It probably was an attempt to discredit Collins, the board member said.
But that may not be hard to do. Collins while a board member slipped into public scrutiny several years ago after he secured a controversial deal with the district to rent space at a vacant school in North Charleston, then fell behind in rental payments and refused to make good on the deal. He’s campaigned for other public offices during his three terms as a board member. And since being re-elected to a fourth term last November, Collins has announced he will seek election as North Charleston’s mayor next year.
Collins said his daughter applied for admission to the School of the Arts in January, but months passed without any response to her application. The School of the Arts serves students in grades 6 through 12 in an intensive arts curriculum. Of about 1,100 students, only 142 are Black. Collins says racial discrimination is an underlying issue in the lack of diversity at the school. But in addition, because he’s a school board member Collins said he thinks his daughter should get preferential treatment in the application process, so he made the request for Postlewait’s intervention.
Not everyone agrees. One parent whose two children attended the school said Collins’ daughter has to go through the same process as other children. And another parent said Collins can’t expect that he gets to jump the line because he’s a school board member. Everybody pays the same taxes, the parent said.
Board member Michael Miller agreed that inherent racism plays a role in whether some students get the opportunity to attend the school. Admission to the school depends heavily on a student’s proficiency in the performing arts. The inherent racism in economics means more white students can afford private lessons that give them an advantage in the admissions process. Essentially what we’ve done is created a school for the affluent, Miller said.
Board Chair Kate Darby agrees there are inequities in the processes that admit students to some of the district’s best schools – of 664 students at the Academic Magnet High School, only 23 are Black and at Buist Academy where there are 486 students, only 38 are Black. The district supplies a world class education to some students and not others, Darby said. The district should be more focused on diversity and is working diligently toward that, she said.
But Collins went too far. By asking the superintendent to intervene in the process, Collins overstepped the boundary. It’s a leap that requires the board to investigate whether ethical protocols were breached, she said.