Originally created 09/07/02

Schools respond to criticism



Richmond County school officials will go to Washington later this month and hope to meet with federal officials then.

Richmond County schools Superintendent Charles Larke rebutted allegations from federal education officials Friday that the school system is hiding behind a desegregation ruling to avoid compliance with President Bush's education reforms.

The allegations stem from an Aug. 28 letter in which U.S. Department of Education Undersecretary Eugene Hickok states that Richmond County schools refused to comply with school choice provisions of the No Child Left Behind education reform package.

The No Child Left Behind Act allows parents the option of transferring their children out of a low-performing school with the school system paying transportation costs. However, given limited facilities, based on health and safety codes, the lowest-performing, low-income pupils get priority.

A conflict arose last month when the school system filed a motion with U.S. District Court, asking to postpone the implementation of the school choice option and transportation provision for the 2002-03 school year.

On Aug. 14, U.S. District Court Chief Judge Dudley H. Bowen Jr. granted the school system's request, largely based on insufficient time.

But according to Mr. Hickok, the school system should have asked for revisions to the original desegregation ruling in order to meet the standards.

"In the case of court-ordered desegregation, districts need to go back to the cognizant court to seek appropriate revisions to the court order if necessary," he wrote. "That is just the opposite of what your agency did in this instance."

In a letter dated Sept. 5, responding to the allegations, Dr. Larke addressed the lack of guidance from Washington and called federal officials' advice on this matter "ever changing and in some instances contradictory."

Federal officials contend that Richmond County is the "first legal challenge" to the school choice provision of the law and disagree with the allegation of insufficient time.

"Your district, as well as every other district in the Nation, was on notice as of Jan. 8 ..." Mr. Hickok wrote.

In his letter, Dr. Larke said he would be willing to discuss the issues addressed in the letter and in the court proceeding.

Reach Ashlee Griggs at (706) 823-3552 or ashlee.griggs@augustachronicle.com.