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Education: Charter school talks with USC about Prince George property
By Charles Swenson
Coastal Montessori Charter School needs to find a permanent home in Georgetown, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
So far, that’s only a recommendation from the Civil Rights Division following a review of enrollment at the school, which opened in August in a vacant wing of Waccamaw Middle School. But new public schools in Georgetown County need approval from the Justice Department under a desegregation agreement in federal court that dates to the 1970s.
“The law requires that a new school should be located where it may ‘readily serve both races,’ ” Thomas Falkinburg, a Justice Department attorney, wrote in a letter to the school district last week, “and locating the single new charter school on Pawleys Island, in a spot far distant from other parts of the district where most students, including students of color, reside does not satisfy that requirement.”
The board of Coastal Montessori is negotiating to buy a portion of 10 acres owned by the University of South Carolina at the Prince George tract. The charter board hopes that location will be accepted by the Justice Department as a
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Charter schools receive public funds, but have their own governing boards and are exempt from some state regulations. State law requires that they have a racial mix within 10 percent of the county as a whole or show a good-faith effort in trying to meet that goal.
Coastal Montessori has 146 students of whom just over 10 percent are black. That’s lower than Waccamaw Middle, where 18 percent of students are black, and far below the district as a whole where 45 percent of students are black.
Falkinburg told the district he doubts black students can be attracted to the charter school from west of the Waccamaw River because of the distance. Travel to Georgetown would be about the same for rural students and those on Waccamaw Neck, he said.
But a school at Prince George would be closer to Georgetown than Murrells Inlet, says Kristin Bohan, a charter school board member who is involved in negotiations for the property. USC acquired the property from the FDIC under a deal with the Prince George developers. “They’re interested in working with us,” Bohan said.
The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools has suggested Coastal Montessori ask the Justice Department for a five year trial and at the Prince George site. “It really will make a difference,” Bohan said.
The Justice Department wants a response by Nov. 3.