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Education: School district study looks at racial balance

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

Sending students from the southern portion of Waccamaw Neck to schools in Georgetown is among the scenarios explored in an attendance study for the Georgetown County School District prepared as part of an effort by the district to lift a desegregation order from the federal courts.

The study was completed at the end of the last school year and has not been reviewed by the school board. It was included in information sent to the U.S. Justice Department at the end of July as part of the agency’s review of the district’s application for “unitary status,” which would end federal oversight of the district’s efforts to reduce racial segregation.

Over half the district’s schools don’t have a racial balance within 10 percent of the balance of the county as a whole, which is required by a consent decree with the federal courts. In the 2010 Census, the population was 34 percent black and 62 percent white, but the school-age population was 43 percent black and 51 percent white. None of the Waccamaw Neck schools are close to that mix.

“If the Waccamaw Neck continues to be the main growth area in Georgetown County, bringing those students to Georgetown schools could have the ability to improve racial balance,” the study by Wilbur Smith and Associates says. “This action could also help relieve strain on the Waccamaw schools as growth occurs.”

The $34,000 study notes that most Waccamaw Neck students live too far from Georgetown to be transported, but those in the southern end of the area “may be close enough.”

Superintendent Randy Dozier said he doubts that changing the attendance zones for Waccamaw Neck or other areas in the county would help the district comply with the consent decree.

He hopes that the study, combined with data from a study by USC’s Institute for Public Service that looked at possible reasons for the decline in the number of 20- to 40-year-olds in the rural areas, will convince the Justice Department that the school district has done all it can to try to offset the segregated nature of communities in Georgetown County.

“In large part,” the Wilbur Smith study says, “the imbalance is simple due to where different people live in the county, which is mostly a result of large-scale population and growth trends.”

The district asked the Justice Department to lift the consent decree several years ago. Agency staff came to the county for a week.

“I felt like it was good,” Dozier said. “The only thing that came from it was additional questions.”

He would like to get Justice Department staff back for another look at the county. In addition to information about attendance zones, the agency asked for data about transfers, staff assignments, transportation, the gifted and talented program, students with disabilities and discipline issues.

The Wilbur Smith study proposed four scenarios for shifting attendance zones and a fifth scenario that mixed parts of the others.

One scenario would send Waccamaw students to Kensington Elementary, Georgetown Middle and Georgetown High. It notes, “School racial distributions have minimal change.”

It was included in the mixed scenario as “a potential for future racial balance improvements. That wide-ranging scenario includes closing Plantersville Elementary, the county’s smallest school and one of two that are almost exclusively black. Students in Georgetown schools would also be shifted. The scenario would improve compliance overall, according to the study.

But the study concludes that growth on Waccamaw Neck, where 40 percent of the county’s white students live, and the physical barrier posed by the Waccamaw and Pee Dee rivers, the district “is severely constrained when attempting to meet the federal racial balance guidelines across all 18 schools.”

Federal rules prevent a student from being on a bus more than 90 minutes. “At first glance, this appears to be adequate time to travel to any school within Georgetown County,” the study says. But when time is deducted for stops and routes that serve riders, “this time quickly is used in a short distance from the destination school.”

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