Several area school districts and the South Carolina High School League have “reached a mutual resolution and settlement agreement” of a lawsuit filed last May by the districts particularly related to Union County High School’s placement in the 3A classification in the SCHSL’s most recent realignment.
Union County’s enrollment numbers qualified it for the 4A level.
The plaintiffs argued the appeals process “did not follow procedures that allowed for open debate” before an appellate board.
“No party has admitted any wrongdoing or liability, and there have been no court findings as to the merits of the lawsuit,” according to the settlement statement.
The statement continues with, “However, in order to avoid the expense and uncertainty of continued litigation, and for the benefit and betterment of the entire League, the plaintiffs and the SCHSL have agreed to resolve this matter.”
Key points of the settlement are:
* The SCHSL has agreed to adopt and implement two sets of new procedures to improve overall transparency and to afford due process protections to member schools during realignment appeals:
o First, the SCHSL has adopted and implemented new notice procedures intended to increase transparency and improve the membership’s awareness of matters brought before and the actions taken by the SCHSL’s governing bodies. These procedures include emailing notices and agendas to the membership prior to meetings, posting meeting notices and agendas on the SCHSL website, and emailing the membership summary reports of actions taken by the governing bodies. SCHSL staff and officials will also participate in FOIA compliance training.
o Second, the SCHSL has adopted and implemented new realignment appeal procedures intended to provide notice and the opportunity to be heard to member schools affected by a realignment appeal. The realignment appeals process will now include specific requirements for written notice to those schools directly affected by a realignment appeal, as well as a method for the affected schools to be heard prior to a decision at each stage of the appeals process.
* In consideration of the SCHSL’s adoption and implementation of these new rules and procedures, the plaintiff school districts have agreed to dismiss the lawsuit.
* In addition to these settlement terms, the SCHSL’s Executive Committee has recommended other legislative proposals to amend other parts of the realignment process. The proposed amendments were submitted by various SCHSL members separate and apart from this settlement, and they will be considered and voted on at the upcoming SCHSL Legislative Assembly annual meeting.
* As a result of the settlement, Union County High School’s placement in Region III AAA will not be affected for the remainder of the 2018-2020 realignment cycle. Union County High School will be subject to reclassification during the 2020-2022 realignment process.
* The plaintiff school districts and the SCHSL believe these new procedures will benefit the entire League, and are hopeful they will prevent similar realignment controversies in the future.
“It’s a good agreement and it should prevent this type of agregious error from happening again in terms of opportunities for all parties to be heard and notification to those parties,” said Spartanburg District Four Superintendent Rallie Liston.
“No school (district) should be disadvantaged through lack of notification and the right to appear and be heard in matters that involve their students,”
SCHSL Commissioner Jerome Singleton said he’s “happy that it’s been settled and that we can move on now.”
Liston notes that a committee of school district superintendents from across the state continues to work to get “needed” changes to the appellate board, the role of that board, and the scope of their authority. Liston points out this is necessary because “they (the appellate board) currently operate with no oversight and no accountability,” he said.
Singleton adds that in its upcoming bi-annual realignment process the league will use 45-day enrollment numbers instead of waiting for 135-day numbers, which had been standard procedure in the past. This will allow the league to have its realignment plan for the 2020-2021 school year in place by November, about two months earlier than usual. Singleton says the new process will also count students from ninth through 11th grade instead of the previous plan of counting those in grades nine through 12. This will mean a larger number of students who will be affected by the realignment are counted over those who won’t, according to Singleton.