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Save Our Schools Before They’re Closed
5/17/2016 4:01:27 PM

By Barney Blakeney 

There’s something about the closing of Lincoln High School that just doesn’t sit right. The school is down to 156 students and it costs Charleston County School District more than $23,000 annually per pupil to operate the isolated school in the rural northern end of the county. For more years than I can remember, Lincoln High has been one of the school district’s academically worst performing schools. Its facility also is among the school district’s worst. Lincoln High’s closing is a formality. The school has been all but forgotten since Hurricane Hugo in 1989.

Lincoln’s closing has been a long time coming. It’s been recommended for closing so many times, the reality of the event comes as no surprise. It’s kind of like the death of the family dog - she’s old, sick and tired. You know the deep sleep is near, but you hate to see her go despite knowing that she doesn’t function well anymore and that her final rest may be a blessing. But unlike the deep sleep that comes after a long and fulfilled life, Lincoln’s closure is unwelcome because Lincoln’s life perhaps could have been prolonged and its death prevented.

I talked with Constituent Dist. 1 school board chair Thomas Colleton about Lincoln’s closure a couple of weeks ago. He doesn’t buy the county schools administrator’s explanation that not only does it cost too much to operate Lincoln for 156 students and that in Lincoln’s situation, its students can’t get the resources they need to prepare them for a productive life after high school.

Colleton’s old school. He’s been around for the fights to make Lincoln a viable educational resource for his predominantly Black, isolated community. He was around when Lincoln was the segregated counterpart to the all white McClellanville High. He knows how Lincoln filled the public education gap for a racially polarized area that rejected mixing of the races.

Colleton knows what Lincoln means for students who live on the outskirts of the county in communities like South Santee, Germantown, Moss Swamp, Tibwin, Pineland, Awendaw and Sewee. He knows those kids will be on buses for hours on the roundtrip to and from school at Wando High some 30 miles away and what that will mean in terms of their high school experience.

Lincoln’s closure is being protested. But the protests are too little, too late. For Colleton, protests to keep Lincoln open is more than impassioned abstinence. His protests are about a sense of community that shapes the identity of children growing up in a unique environment. His protests are about maintaining one of the last community resources which embodies the culture that produced him.

Charleston County school officials deny that the decision to close Lincoln is based on a need to make up for the district’s $18 million budget shortfall. And while some in Charleston County have used that situation to base their protests, Colleton said Lincoln’s death knell comes more as a result of long-standing practices that denied the school resources to attract students and allowed hundreds to transfer out of the constituent district to schools that offer courses Lincoln can’t because of its low student enrollment.

It’s a vicious cycle, Colleton said - the systematic and methodical strategy of manipulating supply and demand through the denial of resources. Lincoln’s not alone. All too many predominantly Black rural schools suffer the same fate born from the same cycle of neglect and denial that results in ultimate closure.

It’s a pattern perpetrated over and over in different communities both rural and urban. The common theme is the system is perpetrated against predominantly Black schools, Colleton surmises. If there are any surprises, it is that those most affected never seem to respond in a way that prevents or or stops the process.

Since the issue of Lincoln’s closure resurfaced in recent weeks, I’ve had conversations with folks who are focused on the end result - the closing of Black schools. They concentrate on distractions like the expenditure of $18 million in a budget of about $400 million which fails to finance a quality education for tens of thousands of Black children.

We hold press conferences after the fact that Black children are denied the opportunity to obtain a quality education in their own communities among their own neighbors. The process needs to start long before we get to the point of school closures. Instead of press conferences and town hall meetings after the fact, there should be strategy sessions and think tanks that counter efforts to deny resources to our schools. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Yeah, there’s something about the closing of Lincoln High School that just doesn’t sit right. But it’s not that the school is closing, it’s how things got to that point.

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