Laurens County School District 56 filed suit, along with four other districts, to prevent the South Carolina High School League’s realignment of Region 3-3A.
Why? Clinton High School figures to be a member of the region regardless of the outcome, but District 56 superintendent Dr. David O’Shields said the issue came down to one central grievance.
Referring to the High School League in general and its Appellate Panel in particular, O’Shields said, “We were allowed to speak but not be heard.”
The five plaintiffs felt as if “the fix” was in when they pleaded their respective cases.
Joining District 56 in the lawsuit are Spartanburg Districts 1, 2 and 4, and Greenwood District 50. At issue is the entry of Union County High School, which has an enrollment of approximately 300 more students than the other five Region 3 schools. As it currently stands, Region 3 will lose Chapman and Broome and add Union County and Emerald.
Still, O’Shields insisted, “It’s not about Union County. It’s about how the High School League failed to make us aware of what was going on and neglected its own rules of procedural due process.”
The objecting schools appealed by every means available within the High School League’s framework. Union County, citing concerns regarding travel and missed class time from its membership in Region 2-4A, appealed its 4A classification and was denied by the SCHSL Executive Committee by unanimous vote, but then the League’s Appellate Panel, which is under the control of the General Assembly, voted 4-3 to overturn the ruling in Union County’s favor. Finally, after appeals were filed by the five districts, the same panel rejected it by a vote of 7-0 on Jan. 31.
The High School League violated its own written policy by failing to inform Region 3’s members of the ongoing attempt by Union County to secure reclassification and join the region. Its defense, as expressed in January by counsel Mike Montgomery, was that, while admitting it had failed to communicate with the region’s members, the SCHSL was under no legal requirement to do so.
O’Shields had heard nothing of the intrigues taking place in Columbia until Clinton High athletics director Nickie Templeton told him about it at a volleyball match last fall. Shortly thereafter, O’Shields wrote a letter in Chapman’s behalf because the Inman school wanted to remain in Region 3.
Then, he said, “We went through every procedure available to us. … We recognize that the High School League is responsible for oversight and management. However, we also recognize that it is a public entity supported by us, our affiliated schools. Shouldn’t they abide by the appropriate responsibilities and obligations for openness that come with that?”
Sports schedules have been finalized for the fall. It’s getting late.
“We hoped there could be a remedy without any issue,” O’Shields said. “Union and Clinton have a vested history. It’s just the way things were done and how things were shuttled through. Certain facets of the process of how things were decided were flawed. No one wanted it to come to this point.”
O’Shields called the Jan. 31 Appellate Panel decision – the 7-0 denial after the five districts made their cases – “the straw that broke the camel’s back.”
The lawsuit, filed in Richland County Common Pleas Court, seeks to overturn Union County’s placement in the region and return it to Class 4A, but it also seeks to define the SCHSL and Appellate Panel as public bodies, declare that the League violated the plaintiffs’ due process, breached an agreement between the League and member schools, violated the Freedom of Information Act and acted “arbitrarily and capriciously” in placing Union County in the 3A classification.
The Executive Committee of the SCHSL has a conference call scheduled for Tuesday morning. “Lawsuit Update” is listed on the agenda as one of the matters scheduled for discussion.