High school senior Casey Edwards announced her intention to file a lawsuit with the South Carolina Supreme Court on Thursday against South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford for stating he will either refuse the stimulus package or spend it on paying down the State Budget deficit instead of for education and other needed infrastructure in South Carolina’s poorest (and predominantly African American) neighborhoods. Her lawsuit comes just three months after SC middle schooler Ty’Sheoma Bethea wrote President Obama about the toxic education environment in the schools in her area.
In dispute is $280 million meant to be spent on k-12 schools in SC. Many of the schools in once segregated South Carolina continue to resemble the separate and unequal past of this nation, with young black children and poor white students going to schools with broken toilets and drinking fountains, crumbling walls and cielings, sewage backing up in hallways, asbestos leaks (see pic to right), and other environmental hazards that may both impact brain development and long term health as much as the educational environment itself (ABC Nightly News 5/17/09). These schools are collective referred to by some locals as “the corridor of shame” (CBS News).
The conditions are poor and the school receives little support from the state. Only four rooms are equipped with hot water. There is mold on the walls and ceilings, deteriorating walls, broken tile floors in the gym, and doors without handles, as well as various snakes and rodents.
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Since the school was once a high school, the urinals are too high for small children resulting in accidents. The lack of central air means that they have to use individual units and space heaters (a fire hazard) to make students comfortable. We also saw that the outside playground equipment was in good shape, but the company that installed the wood chips did not install the anti-weed tarp and the playground is infested with tall grass and weeds that could house snakes from the cornfield. The cement basketball court outside has cracked and been uprooted in many areas, making it unsafe. Lastly, there is one principal and one administrator for 500 children.
The teachers are trying their best, but there are many challenges. The carpets are old and need replacing. The two school vacuum cleaners are broken and need to be replaced. The staff tries to help by bringing in their personal devices, but they are not strong enough to get out all the dust mites, mold dirt, etc. They have an enormous amount of kids out of school for various allergies that these elements provide. Also, the classrooms have a conduit that is hot to the touch in the winter and is hazardous. All of the classrooms are in need of fresh paint. (United Methodist volunteer describing Allendale School in the I-95 corridor as quoted by the SC Advocate)
In Febraury, Ty’Sheoma Bethea, a South Carolina middle school student from the I-95 corridor, was the guest of the Obamas after she wrote the administration to alert them to the problem with schools in her area and the Governor’s intention to let them continue to languish in disparity and despair.
Bethea’s letter about the condition of her school and the educational hopes and dreams of her fellow classmates moved the President enough to read it for the entire Congress while addressing them about educational reform. In it she explained that the students, 88% African American and 86% at or under the poverty line, want to be “doctors and lawyers” and change makers like other students in their state and around the world.
“We are just students trying to become lawyers, doctors, congressmen like yourself, and one day president, so we can make a change to not just the state of South Carolina, but also the world. We are not quitters.” (Ty’Sheoma Bethea as quoted by CNN)
She wanted our government to know that the current conditions of her school and schools in her area made that nearly impossible by being so woefully underfunded as to compromise their educations, their health, and threaten their hope.
While her letter moved the President, it did nothing to impact Governor Sanford’s public decision to reject stimulus money primarily directed at improving South Carolina schools.
(this video was posted by the Governor himself on youtube)
Two months later, Edwards filed her first petition to the SC Supreme Court concerning the stimulus and schools, which was denied b/c the South Carolina State Government and the Governor had not yet concluded meetings on the budget. At the time, Gov Sanford had already declared his intention not to take the stimulus package and had already been making local and national media and political rally appearances publicly rejecting it. However, the rest of the state government was working on a loophole that they hoped would allow them to approve the stimulus even if Gov Sanford rejected it. That loophole has now been closed.
Edwards was inspired to change the socio-economic neglect of schools on the I-95 corridor after watching a documentary, The Corridor of Shame, about them two years ago. Last year, she organized a fundraiser for one of the schools featured in that film. Her efforts helped to buy a state of the art copy machine that a grateful school principle pointed out would not only help with the sdaily running of the school (photocopying tests, records, etc.) but also alleviate the long term lack of textbooks in their school, implying that her school had neither new books nor enough old books to send each child home with needed learning material. This year, she joined a political campaignto improve SC schools as an intern. Witnessing the dismal conditions of schools first hand, and also watching teachers in her own school being laid off b/c of budgetary issues, Edwards decided she needed to do more.
14 year old Bethea and 18 year old Edwards, like the rest of us invested in education, understood that a school system that condemns its poorest citizens to learning environments without basic educational capacity and potential health hazards is not only unequal but inexcusable. Worse, these failures follow fault lines that have existed in SC since Jim Crow and have yet to be addressed despite both the legal and moral issue of educating our children AND the social and economic impact of poorly educated marginalized youth in their teen and adult years. For a Governor to put his own political agenda, ie being able to say he has balanced his state budget during a depression either for the good of the Republican Party or, as implied by Chris Matthews on Thursday, for a potential presidential bid, is not only offensive but has lasting long term effects on the safety, success, and equality of the citizens of his state.
For his part, Gov. Sanford says the lawsuit is “politically-driven press spectacle,” (Truthout) despite growing documentation of the dismal conditions of schools on the I-95 corridor from documentaries, to news specials, to social campaigns to address the issues. In fact a lawsuit against the State of Carolina on behalf of 36 schools in the corridor and surrounding area, has already received one ruling stating that the South Carolina had failed to “provide a minimally adequate education” to its k-12 students in the area. Yet, Gov. Sanford claims the minor cost of living increases in the state budget already approved more than make up for his ongoing decision to refuse the stimulus. Included in his cited increases is a 3.5% increase in school spending that cannot possibly meet the needs of the schools in the I-95 corridor, let alone those of the entire state.
You can help by:
- Spreading the news of these two girls stories and the story of these schools that sit on the intersection of the legacy of racism and classism in America
- participating in the Pencil Project
- contacting Governor Mark Sanford and letting him know that leaving SC poorest and largely African American students behind for his own political ends is unacceptable:
Governor Mark Sanford
Office of the Governor
P.O. Box 12267
Columbia, SC 29211
You can send the Governor an e-mail by clicking this link.
- Host the student photography exhibit “But What About Us” about the conditions of their school and its impact on them
- Become more involved with schools in your own states and neighborhoods & make sure this is not happening where you live too
- Dennis Intermediate School in Lee County, SC. flickr/igitursum
- Allendale Elementary School library wall, SC. Advocate/unattributed.
- Bathroom in unnamed School. But What About Us Exhibit
For more info, read articles in the citation links and/or read the info and follow the links here (part of the “But What About Us” exhibit)