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SC Education Chief Can Soon Fire School Boards In 'Underperforming' Districts

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A new South Carolina law allows the state superintendent to declare a state-of-education emergency in school districts where 65% or more of the schools are rated “underperforming” for three straight years and potentially fire school boards in those districts.

A new law in South Carolina allows the state education superintendent to fire the entire school board in districts where too many schools have been rated as “underperforming.”

The law, signed by Gov. Henry McMaster after easily passing the House and Senate, goes into effect in July 2022.

It allows the superintendent to declare a state-of-education emergency in school districts where 65% or more of the schools are rated “underperforming” for three straight years on the Department of Education's annual school report cards.

If the State Board of Education agrees with the superintendent on the emergency declaration, the district's school board is all fired and state officials will get at least six years to take over the district and try to improve it.

The state is currently running districts in Allendale County for a second time as well as in Williamsburg County and Florence District 4. Current Education Superintendent Molly Spearman said the experiences so far led her to ask lawmakers to add the provision to get rid of school board members.

“In the three districts that we have declared a state of emergency, there was negligence by some of the school board members, and those same members continued to be a distraction while we were there working,” Spearman said in an interview with The State newspaper. “That’s when it became apparent to me that the best solution would be to dissolve those boards.”

If a district shows three years of progress, an interim board is chosen by the education superintendent, governor and local legislators. The board serves for at least three years before local school board elections can start again.

The law is unclear about whether Spearman can get rid of the boards in districts the state is already running. Education department officials are asking lawmakers to clarify that next year.

The South Carolina School Boards Association may sue if the boards in districts already under state control are fired because actions in those districts weren't taken under the new law, spokesperson Debbie Elmore said.

Elmore said her association is also reviewing other parts of the law for possible legal action.

Williamsburg County School District Chairperson Marva Cannion said it wouldn't be fair to remove her from office because she was elected in 2018 on promises to improve the district after the state took over.

“We’re just sitting here waiting to see what the state decides,” Cannion, a retired special education director, told the newspaper. “They are aware we want to serve and be part of the solution and not the problem.”

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