On Tuesday evening the Fairfield County School Board held a special meeting to vote on the appeal process with a lawsuit involving Fairfield County School District and the Chester County School District..
School board chairwoman Andrea Harrison said that the attorney advising the school board provided his best legal assumptions about what might or might not happen if the district appealed.
The board voted 5-2 to file an appeal, with board members Bobby Cunningham and Beth Reid voting against.
Cunnigham cited the high attorney fees the district owes from the previous case as one reason for his opposition.
However, board member Henry Miller noted that the Fairfield district sends three buses every day back and forth to the Mitford area.
“Students in Blair travel 28 miles to the high school. They claim (in Mitford) to have to travel so far but students in Blair travel further,” Miller said. “Later, legislators could say that a child in Ridgeway could go to school in Richland County. This is dangerous and something this board needs to fight.”
The lawsuit addresses controversy over a long standing practice in the Mitford area of students who actually live closer to Great Falls schools attending Great Falls schools rather than a school in Fairfield County.
This practice occurs throughout the state when a child lives in one district but is closer to schools in the other district.
State law says the children are entitled to the option of choosing a closer school provided they pay tuition.
The receiving district has the option of waving tuition, however.
For some years, according to school district attorney Armond Derfner, Fairfield School District paid $25,000 per year to Chester County School District for those students’ educational expenses.
Two years ago, the Fairfield County School District was required by Chester County School District to pay a certain amount for each child, an amount well exceeding $25,000.
At that time, the Chester and Fairfield county school districts became mired in dispute over local education funding.
Derfner said that according to Article III Section 34 of the South Carolina Constitution, no special law may be passed to address an issue when a general law can be made applicable.
The legal issue is whether general law or special law pertains to the Mitford situation.
Fairfield County filed a lawsuit claiming that the special law which passed in 2010 did not apply because general law handled this area for districts throughout the state.
Chester County School District countered, arguing that the long standing and unique nature of the Fairfield and Chester arrangement with the Mitford situation was a special situation thanks to the number of children involved.
An argument was heard in lower court by Circuit Court Judge Ernest Kinard. According to Derfner, Kinard said he would move on the case, although due to its complexity he realized it would need to be settled by the S.C. Supreme Court or a court of appeals.
Kinard ruled for Chester County finding that law 59-63-485 did not violate Article III of the South Carolina Constitution.
Fairfield County School District had 30 days to appeal that decision.
In his summary ruling Kinard ruled the special legislation “falls well within the well recognized category of constitutional special legislation that is reasonably and logically designed to address and exigent, unique situation, or local condition.”
Within 30 days of July 10, the Fairfield County School District has been ordered to release funds owed Chester County School District.
In other news, board members voted to suspend an attendance policy to allow Annie McDaniel to attend the special called meeting by phone due to extenuating circumstances.