Vice president of the Horry County Alliance for Educational Justice (HCAEJ) Dameion Fowler said his group has a different approach to achieve its goals.
“We are an organization that is willing to get out on the streets,” he said. “If we can’t cooperate with the school district, then we’re willing to shut the whole thing down.”
Though the group seeks to promote educational justice and hold the school district accountable through nonviolent means, they said they’re not afraid to act.
“We’ll go out and stand in the middle of U.S. 501 if we have to,” he said.
Fowler said the group was formed following a young teen’s being sent from Whittemore Park Middle School to the Horry County Education Center, or “alternative school,” in Conway, for allegedly threatening to shoot up the school, and being subsequently charged with disturbing schools.
The student’s charges were later dismissed and the teen recently began attending Conway High School, having finished his time at the alternative school.
Fowler said that despite dismissal of the charges, he and other members of the group felt that the juvenile being sent to the alternative school was unjust. He added that the incident and similar instances in the county led to the group’s creation.
“We saw almost the conveyor belt-like railroading of this young man,” he said. “We went within the system and trusted the system and felt like it let us down.”
Fowler said information provided by the district through FOIA requests concerning Horry County Schools’ was alarming.
The information concerned the hiring of staff members and faculty who identify as black or as a person of color, ratios of black students to black teachers and white students to white teachers and the amount of severe disciplinary actions taken against black students in comparison to white students.
According to this information, for the first part of the 2016-2017 school year, in a district with a a black student population of 20 percent, black students accounted for 64 percent of expulsions, 39 percent of referrals to alternative schooling, 42 percent of in-school suspensions, and 45 percent of out-of-school suspensions.
18 of the 320 teachers hired for the 2017-2018 identify themselves as a person of color, according numbers from the school district.
The group hosted a meeting Saturday at Cherry Hill Missionary Baptist Church that also acted as an open forum where some of these issues were discussed in addition to solutions.
Some of the group’s suggestions, which were brought up at the meeting, include revising the code of conduct, creating positive behavior interventions, creating support systems for students and adding an intervention officer position. Attendees with kids in HCS were also encouraged to play an active role in their children’s lives as well as hold their teachers accountable.
Three of the main subjects they wanted to stress to the school board were changing the disciplinary system, hiring more minority teachers and establishing a system of “restorative justice.”
Horry County School Board Member Janet Graham, who represents Conway and Carolina Forest and Chairman Joe DeFeo were both present and listened to the concerns of the group, with attendees voicing their approval for the board members attendance.
Both stated that they’d take their concerns to their fellow school board members and consider what was brought up at the meeting, with DeFeo encouraging those at the forum to continue communicating with school district officials.
Fowler said the group will hold them to their promise and said he will continue to work with school board members and keep them accountable.
“We feel that if the system doesn’t work for everybody, it should work for nobody,” he said.