By Barney Blakeney
Too often it seems groups advocating for changes that impact racial and student achievement gap diversity in Charleston County School District appear to be chasing their tails in a never-ending cycle of protest, demand and abeyance.
In recent weeks the National Action Network and others have mounted a protest of Charleston County School District challenging racism and racial disparities inherent in the system. Last month US News and World Report ranked Academic Magnet High School in North Charleston the nation’s 2019 top high school in the country. In 2015 the school was castigated for racially-tinged rituals conducted by members of its football team. Local civil rights groups protested. A spinoff of that protest was a demand for greater racial diversity at the district’s top rated schools.
That year, there were 14 Black students among the school’s total 638 students. At Charleston County School of the Arts, the district’s second highest rated high school, there were 135 Black students among nearly 1,100 students at the school in 2015. The district developed two initiatives in response to demands for greater racial diversity – the top two students at predominantly Black middle schools were given priority consideration for admittance to the county’s best schools and funding was allocated to prepare other minority students to attend the best rated schools.
But little has changed regarding racial diversity since 2015 – this year 25 of the AMHS’s 650 students is Black. And at Charleston County School of the Arts 153 of 1,104 students are Black. Racial diversity is an obvious challenge at the district’s three next highest rated schools also. At Wando High where there are some 3,881 students only 398 are Black while at Charleston Charter for Math and Science where there are 543 students 300 are Black. But at James Island Charter High School where there are about 1,500 students 345 are Black.
National Action Network Vice President for Religious Affairs and External Relations Rev. Nelson Rivers last week said a complaint filed with the Department of Justice Civil Rights Office on Education in 2015 to protest the lack of racial diversity in Charleston County schools has floundered since the Trump administration took office. The system of inequities outlives changes in administration, Rivers said, so changes in policy must be the priority. The efforts to create those policies must be continuous and not allow showmanship to replace struggle.