This story was updated Thursday, March 21, 2019, at 5:12 p.m. with more information.
Chattooga High School students walked out of class in protest to the Board of Education's decision to move back to a 5-day-a-week schedule.
About 600 students walked out around 12:30 p.m. today, Superintendent Jim Lenderman said. Administrators and teachers were all looped in to the plan several days in advance and prepared to monitor the protest. Some students were on lunch breaks during the walk out.
Schools in Chattooga County have been closed on Mondays since 2010. It started as a cost-saving measure, but Lenderman argued it also improved morale and helped attract new teachers who wanted permanent three-day weekends.
But on Jan. 17, the board voted, 4-1, to return to a standard schedule this fall. Three new board members — Sammy Ballard, Brad Hayes and Julia Houston — advocated for the change during last year's campaign. Board Chair John Agnew also voted for the return to a five-day-a-week schedule.
Lenderman, who will resign at the end of the month in response to the change, said Chattooga High School Principal Jeff Martin told him a couple of days ago that students wanted to walk out. The superintendent to put forth a couple of rules: no cursing, no leaving campus and no disrespecting anybody else.
Students taped papers advertising the walk out around campus, with the words "Mr. Lenderman has approved this, and no one will get in trouble as long as the guidelines are followed."
"What's wrong with letting them do something like a protest?" Lenderman said. "It's their rights. If we get out there and try to stop them we'll probably be on national TV. I don't hate that. But it shouldn't be for a negative thing."
Board member John Turner, the only elected official who voted against the schedule change and contemplated resigning, was pleased with the walk out
"This is a civics lesson," he said. "There's so much in play here with the young people. And the politics. There are just a lot of dynamics."
Turner said the board agreed in January to tour all of the districts' schools today. This might be why the students scheduled the protest. Last night, Turner learned the board's visit was cancelled.
"I think it was because the heat was up," he said. "They didn't want to have to answer questions. I wouldn't either, if i were in their shoes."
Agnew said the board cancelled today's planned meeting because two members could not make it, for "personal reasons." Houston, an early education professor at Shorter University, said she had to work today, for example. He is not sure when they will reschedule the visits. Agnew said he had not seen footage of the protests online or through WRCB-TV, which carried the walk out live. He had only rumors from a couple of residents in town.
"I don't know who was behind it or who brought it about," he said. "I really have no idea. I wouldn't point my finger at anybody."
Some members of the community announced earlier this week that they would try to recall the board members who voted to bring schools back to Mondays. Opponents have argued the board members violated ethics policies by not having a thorough discussion before making their decision. (The board voted on the item the same day three new members were sworn in.)
Houston has argued that last year's election centered on whether to return to a five-day-a-week schedule. She said there has been plenty of discussion.
While Lenderman has argued the four-day-a-week schedule actually creates more classroom time because each day is longer, Houston said the time is not best used. Students cannot sit in a classroom for a long period of time, she said.
The Board of Education meets tonight at 6 at 206 Penn Street in Summerville.