Editor's Note: It’s not Jolene Byrne who needs to go 

BEFORE Hurricane Irma’s remnants swept into our area, Savannah-Chatham School Board President Jolene Byrne made a Facebook post suggesting that parents make their own decisions about evacuating for the storm.

The problem was that new Superintendent Dr. Ann Levett, in charge of the district’s day-to-day operations, hadn’t yet announced an official decision as to which school days would be cancelled.

The post caused a bit of a kerfuffle, probably deservedly. But people seemed to get over it. Irma came, not much happened, and everyone went back to their lives.

Except the Savannah-Chatham School Board, which went back to its old business of working overtime to discredit Byrne.

Just last week, the Board presented — against protocol — a letter to Byrne, signed by all other Board members, rebuking her for that now-ancient Facebook post.

Why so late? The letter will likely be included as evidence in the Board’s incrimination of Byrne in a complaint against her filed with the Southern Association for Colleges and Schools (SACS).

Here’s the thing: The SACS investigation carries the very real possibility of having an end result that includes our entire school district losing accreditation.

If the entire school district loses accreditation, every student in it would lose eligibility for the HOPE Scholarship.

And every student would see their diploma de-accredited as well, and would basically not be eligible to attend college.

On this issue, always keep this in mind:

The rest of your elected School Board is essentially working to keep local students from being able to attend college.

Let that sink in.

Their vendetta against the Board President has reached such a fever pitch that they hold every child in the district hostage to it. Maybe the hope is if the district is de-accredited, people will blame Byrne and not them for filing the complaint.

Let’s drill down a bit further:

While not every school in the district is majority/minority, the district itself is roughly 70 percent nonwhite.

Thirty-two district schools qualify for Title I, free or reduced lunch. And apparently there are about a dozen “failing schools,” possibly subject to state takeover.

Let all that sink in, too. The district already faces serious issues of equity even without this controversy.

So let’s say this once again:

The rest of your elected School Board is essentially working to keep local students from being able to attend college.

That is not only morally wrong. It is not only a violation of the oath of office.

It’s also, frankly, pretty damn racist.

Why this isn’t pointed out more often by more people is a total mystery to me.

Why that isn’t front page news, instead of Byrne’s Facebook posts, is beyond my understanding.

This is a School Board and school bureaucracy which will talk all day long about the need to engage and motivate minority and disadvantaged students, about the need to close the achievement gap, about improving the graduation rate, about “all” meaning “all.”

Well, they got the last part right. When they want to take away all students’ HOPE Scholarships, they apparently do mean all of them.

It’s bad enough that this cynical effort to undermine an already critically compromised local educational system was begun by a man who isn’t even here anymore, former Superintendent Thomas Lockamy.

Such is the School Board’s devotion to Lockamy’s feud with Byrne that they are pursuing his goal of de-accrediting the entire district even after he’s long gone with his fat retirement package.

Does this mean I think everything Jolene Byrne does is great? Not at all.

Candidly, she probably should have stayed off the damn computer that night.

If I were advising her, which I’m not, I’d tell her to take a long break from Facebook.

But in my mind this has little to do with Byrne anymore.

This is about a School Board that has lost its moral and professional moorings to a potentially disastrous extent.

Jolene Byrne’s far from perfect, but it’s not Jolene Byrne that needs to go.


About The Author

Jim Morekis

Jim Morekis

A native Savannahian, Jim has been editor-in-chief of Connect Savannah for 15 years. The University of Georgia graduate is also a travel writer, authoring regional guides in the Moon handbook series... more


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