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There are none so blind as those who will not see

web posted October 17, 2007
OPINION – The repeated actions of the Edgefield County School Board’s majority leans towards decisions that appear to be based upon race is hurting not only our schools, students, but also our entire county and it has to end. School Board Chairwoman Sallie Cooks denies any suggestion of racial preferences in their decisions and has told the press she does not listen to people that make such claims. Such a statement draws the immediate cliché; “there are none so blind as those who will not see.”

Since the election of Sallie Cooks, and later James Bibbs and Scott Chitty, the school district has been in a downward spiral which was a closely kept secret from the general public’s view. Cooks was instrumental in the turmoil raised by a few political activists that wanted to do away with the decades old Strom Thurmond Rebel mascot, a “non-issue” for 99.9% of county residents. Cooks flexed not only the might of her position and the majority being held by black members, but also added to the adoration of her by the local chapter of the NAACP, which pushed the issue to begin with. Yet, she sees no “indication” of racial bias.

Foolishly, and against the advice of their own citizen appointed committee, Cooks and her band of like-minded board member were duped into voting for a “coon dog” to be the new mascot. How apropos to what has transpired since.

The hiring practices of the school board grew stronger along racial lines and position after position was seemingly given to black applicants over, equally if not more qualified, white candidates. During the much publicized debacle with Strom Thurmond vice-principal Paul Martin it was admitted that even with a black principal the vice-principal was also selected based on race and gender and the desired race and gender was a black male. After Mr. Martin was removed from the position, another black male was hired to take his place.

However, Sallie Cooks sees no indication of racial bias.

As the last three years saw repeated incidents of similar hirings, including Sallie Cooks voting to hire a family member in an administrative position and giving her an instant 40% raise, but there is no perception of racial, or family, bias seen by Mrs. Cooks.

The antics of the Board of Education is also well documented in a release by the longest serving member of the School Board, Brad Covar, in which he chided his fellow elected leaders to refrain from continuing the practice. Several high-ranking life-long employees resigned from the district due to the “sinking ship” syndrome. Mr. Covar alluded to a Federal Discrimination suit that has been filed against the school district, although they have not released any information regarding the suit.

Nevertheless, the damage reaches far beyond the operation of our local schools. It has a devastating effect on economic development in the county. When prospective industries examine our county as a possible location for new industry, one of the key factors is the strength and quality of the public school district.

Edgefield Mayor Ken Durham correctly stated this problem in the Vision 20/20 kick-off held at JET Middle School weeks ago. When industry leaders read the area print media or view television press and see nothing but negative stories, the county is hard pressed to encourage these industries to locate here.

The effects reach beyond education and economic indicators however. It reaches into the mindset of our youth. As we teach tolerance and race-equality in our schools and community, and churches, students learn far more by observation and the actions of our elected leaders. If certain board members are allowed to flaunt their bias, then so will the children they are charged with educating.

It will not be long before the “us” against “you” mentality of our school board begins to manifests itself widely among our youth. We are breeding the future leaders of our county today, and the lessons they are presented with do not appear to be conducive to advancing our youth into productive and racially unbiased citizens.

If Sallie Cooks cannot see the problems created under her leadership then she needs to be removed from office in the next election along with her cohorts.

In the immortal words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

Words Chairwoman Cooks and a majority of our school board members need to revisit and abide by before they destroy what decades of cooperation has been able to heal and achieve since those words were spoken decades ago.

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