The spirit of CDEP is lost in South Carolina Schools – Being Rejected From Public School
It was earlier this year that we were approached by Rose’s principle at South Fant that she may no longer be eligible to attend South Fant. I never thought I see the day when this would happen, the day we began a fight to keep Rose in public school…for all the right reasons.
We started a massive letter writing campaign, one that has no resolution. I am at a cross roads. Does it make sense to write about this publicly? Is this form of public awareness shine a direct spotlight onto a narrative that can be construed as “white privilege”? I don’t know the answers and no one is willing to admit that a wonderful program might need some adjusting.
Below is our letter to the following people:
Anderson School District Five
Penny Danielson / Department of Education, Early Learning & CDEP Team Lead
Molly Spearman / State Superintendent of Education
Rep. Anne Thayer
Rep. Gary Clary / House Education and Public Works Committee
Rep. Rita Allison / House Education and Public Works Committee
Senator Vincent Sheheen / Senate Education Committee
Senator John E. Courson / Senate Education Committee
Governor Nikki R. Haley
We have received lots of feedback from Anderson School District Five School Board stating CDEP implementation is a state policy issue. We have also heard from those on the state level that claim it is school district decision. Bottomline, I think it is a financial decision by the districts to draw down close to $4200 per student per year, students whose families are at or below 180% poverty, as a means to fund schools, which are potentially creating silo’d educational settings.
This process has taught me that the lawsuit in Abbeville County, the catalyst for CDEP, provides 4K education to those underserved populations. The tremendous spirit of CDEP is now, in my opinion, creating segregated classroom settings that do not match the population socio-economic and cultural diversity of the cities and counties where schools reside.
Bottomline, we put Rose in South Fant’s 3K program last year to not only expose her to a wonderful educational setting, but to embed her within the cultural setting she lives each day. When it was time for 4K, Anderson School District Five said to our family that she does meet the standard to attend public school at South Fant.
Here is our letter:
May 19, 2016
To Whom It May Concern,
My name is Bobby Rettew. My wife Sarah and I were thrilled last year to enroll our daughter Rose at the South Fant School of Early Education’s 3K program. From the first time we walked into South Fant with our daughter, we knew that this was where we wanted Rose to attend preschool. The bright colorful hallways, the educational programs and, most of all, the loving staff made South Fant feel more like a family than a school.
While the education and curriculum at South Fant is phenomenal, there is another reason that we preferred South Fant for our daughter. My wife, Rose and I are a white family. We attend a predominantly white church. We live in a predominantly white neighborhood. But at South Fant, our daughter is the minority. Of 19 children in her 3K class, she is one of three white children. At South Fant, Rose’s best friend is a beautiful little girl with brown skin named Ze’Aliayha. Every day, she is surrounded by people who don’t look just like her, and this is instilling in her a social understanding and education in diversity that no amount of money can buy.
A few years ago, I was involved in Clemson University’s “Call Me MISTER” program. The goal of this program is to increase the pool of available teachers from a more diverse background, or in other words, to increase the number of non-white elementary school teachers, leaders and role models. As Rose walks into South Fant every morning, she is greeted at the front door by her principal, Mr. Ware. As she makes her way down the hallway to her classroom, Mrs. Johnson gathers Rose up into a giant hug and tells her that she hopes she has a good day. As she arrives at her classroom, she is greeted by her teachers, Mrs. Fowler and Mrs. Mance. By the time Rose starts her day, four very important role models in Rose’s life have greeted her and begun her educational process. Of these four people, three have skin that doesn’t look like hers.
During our nightly story time with Rose, we read books about children of diverse backgrounds and try to instill in her the knowledge that the world is made up so many colors and cultures and beliefs. But no amount of bedtime stories will make the lasting impact of one morning at South Fant.
Sarah and I understand that South Fant’s admission process is need-based. We don’t have the financial need of many families in Anderson; however, our daughter does have a social need that is being met by South Fant every day that she has attended this past year. During the past few months, she has learned the Pledge of Allegiance and all the letter sounds. But the changes we’ve seen in her are so much more than that. She has blossomed socially. She has become more aware and open to her environment and to people. She is receiving a balanced, complete education that my wife and I truly believe she cannot receive anywhere else.
We were saddened when we recently received a letter from the Anderson School District Five office stating that Rose has been denied acceptance into South Fant’s 4K program for the 2016-2017 academic year. We have spoken to many of the Anderson School District Five board members and South Fant’s principal, Mr. Anthony Ware, and familiarized ourselves with the South Carolina Child Development Education Program (CDEP) Public School Guidelines. We also met with Ms. Brenda Kelly, Director of Elementary and Early Childhood Programs for Anderson School District Five, to learn more about the eligibility guidelines.
We learned that in order for us to enroll Rose into South Fant’s 4K program, our annual family income must be “185% or less of the federal poverty guidelines as promulgated annually by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services or Medicaid eligibility.” Through years of helping hospitals in South Carolina create communication strategies surrounding the Affordable Care Act, I knew we would not meet the CDEP family income eligibility guidelines. For a family of three, 185% of federal poverty is $37,166, which is below our family’s annual income for the 2015 tax year.
We feel disappointed, marginalized and to be completely honest, I never thought I would find myself in the position where my child is being denied a public school education. Both Sarah and I are both products of South Carolina’s public school system. I grew up in Clemson, SC attending Morrison Elementary, Edwards Junior High School and Daniel High School. Sarah grew up attending Townville Elementary, Oakway Middle School, and West Oak High School. Both of us attended publicly funded colleges – Sarah attended Lander University for her undergraduate degree and I attended Clemson University. We are strong supporters and advocates of a public education and want to continue this path for Rose.
With the news that Rose was not accepted into South Fant’s 4K program, we investigated several other preschools in Anderson and decided to enroll Rose in Boulevard Baptist Church’s 4K program. The tuition for Rose to attend Boulevard’s preschool will be roughly $471 dollars per month. On page 15 of the 2015-2016 SC CDEP Public School Guidelines, it states “CDEP schools shall receive the designated amount of $4,218 per eligible student served during the 2015–2016 school year,” which is roughly 180 school days.
I calculated that currently Rose attends South Fant roughly 20-22 days a month. Based on the $4,218 allotment set forth in the CDEP guidelines, this would cost the State of South Carolina between $468.67 and $515.40 per month for our child. This closely compares to the cost of Boulevard Baptist Church’s 4K program.
This comparison leads me to my honest assessment – that my wife and I would be willing (and happy) to pay $471 per month to send Rose to South Fant’s 4K program versus Boulevard Baptist Church’s 4K program.
I do want to reiterate that the advocacy presented in this letter does not intend to overstep the opportunity for any other child in Anderson to receive a quality education through CDEP. We understand that if Rose were admitted into South Fant’s 4K program, she would replace another child with a larger financial barrier to obtain access to a quality education. Our awareness was raised after reading the lawsuit from Abbeville County School System, which we understood was part of the catalyst to create CDEP. We realize more children will receive a high quality education in the 2016-2017 school year because of CDEP.
So where is the balance? How can we create a fully integrated school program bringing children from all walks of life together in one classroom? Rose has been exposed to this opportunity during her time in South Fant’s 3K program. But, because of CDEP’s guidelines for 4K, she has been placed back into a siloed educational program that represents only one socioeconomic class. She will receive an excellent academic education at Boulevard Baptist Church, but the demographic makeup of her class will not accurately represent the diversity of Anderson, SC.
Referring back to page five of 2015-2016 CDEP Public School Guidelines, “The CDEP program priority is to serve economic at-risk children first. Any slots that have not been filled with eligible children may be filled with special education children that do not meet the economic eligibility.” I embrace the vision of CDEP expanding high quality education to those who are economically at-risk and special education children. But I envision a broader perspective, creating a classroom with socially and economically diverse children who mirror the broader community of Anderson, Anderson County, and the great state of South Carolina. It is my hope that CDEP can evolve to embrace more diversity and inclusivity.
I am proposing opportunities for policy changes:
- Consider providing individual schools the ability to make limited exceptions, regardless of funding, to admit children like Rose and still adhere to the spirit of CDEP.
- Consider updating CDEP Guidelines to allow prekindergarten classrooms, like South Fant, to represent a more socially and culturally diverse population, providing space to celebrate these diverse populations. It is my opinion this would truly advance the spirit of CDEP, creating more options for parents that want a socially and culturally diverse, high quality education for our children at prekindergarten level.
We realize this letter will not create immediate change in the CDEP policy. However, it is our hope that we have provided an additional perspective to consider as the CDEP program continues to develop. We believe in South Carolina’s public school system and we want to be strong partners so that our children can become products of a brighter, social minded, and culturally diverse population.
Bobby and Sarah Rettew