Sumter school board votes down BRAG charter, 9-0, at virtual meeting

Charter’s chair, Gary Burgess, declined to participate in telephone call-in presentation


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Barring any legal action that may affect the outcome of the proceedings, BRAG Literacy STRrEAM Institute of Sumter will not be establishing a public charter school here in fall 2021.

In a 9-0 unanimous vote, Sumter School District's Board of Trustees voted down and denied BRAG institute's charter application on Monday night at its first-ever virtual board meeting.

With recent public health orders in light of the coronavirus, district administration and the school board changed Monday's regular monthly board meeting to a virtual meeting last week and said no members of the public could attend in person. That included BRAG's chairman Gary Burgess and other members of his charter planning committee.

District administration said Burgess - a life-long educator and Anderson County resident - and his committee could do their presentation to the board virtually, via telephone call-in or Zoom conference call.

Also, last week, the district allowed any members of the public wanting to speak during the public comment portion of BRAG's hearing to pre-register for a live telephone call-in. Only one member of the public did call in Monday night. Any member of the public could also attend the meeting virtually via a live YouTube broadcast.

Burgess said last week if he couldn't attend in person, he refused to make his presentation to the board via a conference call.

During the public hearing on the charter application, Superintendent Penelope Martin-Knox noted to the board that BRAG's planning committee had elected to not participate.

Five board trustees actually attended the first-ever virtual meeting in person, and four joined via Zoom conference call. Those in attendance at the district office, 1345 Wilson Hall Road, included Chairman the Rev. Ralph Canty, Vice Chairman Frank Baker, the Rev. Daryl McGhaney, Shawn Ragin and Sherril Ray. They were spread at least six feet apart in the board room to practice social distancing.

Trustees who joined virtually were Brian Alston, Johnny Hilton, Barbara Jackson and Matthew "Mac" McLeod.

On April 1 and also Sunday, Burgess' attorney, Johnny E. Watson, of Columbia sent letters to Martin-Knox asking the district to suspend the scheduled virtual public hearing in light of the current state of emergency associated with COVID-19.

Burgess said the virtual meeting format would not allow for a "fair hearing."

However, legal counsel for the district said Friday that the district was moving forward as best as it could to accommodate the public under the current circumstances with the coronavirus.

District attorney John Reagle, of Columbia, said by state statute the district and board must have a public hearing and rule on Burgess' charter application by April 30. If not, then by that statute, the charter would be automatically approved without any public input at all.

Reagle added virtual, electronic meetings are legal under state law and the public had been made aware of its ability to make comments Monday.


During Monday's public hearing on BRAG's charter application, district executive staff - including Chief of Schools Brenda Hafner, Executive Director of Instruction Jada McLeod, Chief Human Resources Officer John Koumas and Chief Financial Officer Jennifer Miller - participated via Zoom conference call and detailed numerous aspects of BRAG's submitted application.

While noting some areas in the application where BRAG's planning committee met required expectations, administration indicated BRAG fell short of meeting the requirements of the South Carolina Charter Schools Act in many areas, including its education plan, organizational plan, transportation plan and budget/financial plan, among others.

During the hearing, Canty, the district school board's chairman, asked Martin-Knox, the superintendent, if there was anything unique to BRAG's charter that could supplement what Sumter School District is not currently doing to meet student needs.

She said, based on BRAG's application, the proposed charter didn't offer anything unique, and the data used in its analysis were from the 2017 ACT and that that's considered "lagging data" at this point.

At the conclusion of the public hearing, Martin-Knox said the district's recommendation was for the school board to deny the application for BRAG's proposed charter in Sumter County.

After returning from executive session behind closed doors about 8:35 p.m., McGhaney made the motion to deny BRAG's charter on the grounds that it failed to meet the requirements of the state Charter Schools Act.

Alston seconded the motion, and all the trustees voted to deny BRAG's application in the unanimous vote.