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Accreditation group plans visit

By Trina Trice

The Clayton County school system can expect a visit from accreditation officials before the end of the school year.

Mark Elgart, executive director of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, said he and other SACS officials are accepting a written invitation extended from the Clayton County Board of Education.

The school board sent a letter to SACS in response to its ongoing inquiry concerning the alleged mismanagement of the school district.

In a March 5 letter, SACS requested information from interim Superintendent Dr. William Chavis concerning possible violations against the organization's "Accreditation Standards."

The organization had received a barrage of phone calls and letters concerning recent actions of the school board.

However, Elgart hasn't released the specifics of the information his organization has received. But he has said the nature of the concerns pertain to the relationship the school board has to the day-to-day operation of the school system.

SACS wants to know if the school board is following its own policies and wants to make sure it does not have any hand in the daily operation of the school district. The school board should function only as a policy-making body, Elgart said.

School officials met the April 15 deadline SACS set for a response.

Elgart asserts the visit to the district he and other SACS officials are making is not a cordial one, but is in conjunction with the inquiry.

"It's to determine whether or not the allegations are true and if they are, whether or not they are in violation of our standards," Elgart said.

When asked if he'd heard about board members meeting former special matters Attorneys Terry Jackson and Lee Sexton concerning the transfer or removal of various school administrators other than former Superintendent Dan Colwell, Elgart said, "I've heard elements of that. That is something that will come up during our onsite inquiry."

Board member Dr. Bob Livingston doesn't know how the board responded to SACS, saying that he is kept in the dark on a lot of the board's actions.

"If we get put on probation by SACS, I think the public ought to be outraged," Livingston said.

Dr. Harry Ross, organizer of a petition drive for a new dress code in Clayton County Public Schools, met with Elgart who he said assured him that the school system isn't in any danger of losing its accreditation.

In a tape recorded interview with Elgart, Ross asserts Elgart said, "the Clayton County school district is not threatened with the loss of its accreditation. The school district is in good standing. The district has not been classified in the adverse category. We will not consider the removal of" Colwell "and the widespread rumors of board mismanagement."

If the Clayton County school system loses its accreditation, students and teachers run the risk of their work not being recognized by other systems or higher education institutions. SACS accredits more than 12,000 public and private educational institutions from pre-kindergarten to university level in 11 Southeastern states and in Latin America.

Following that meeting, Elgart did not want to discuss the specifics of what he discussed with Ross, but he clarified Ross' statement by saying the Clayton County school system is not in danger of losing its accreditation "at this moment."

"It's not going to happen today or next week," Elgart said. "Over time it could happen, but it won't happen overnight."

A thorough investigation has to be made and the SACS inquiry must be finished before anyone can know whether or not the school system will lose its accreditation, Elgart said.

Despite Ross' attempts to reassure the public the school system's accreditation is in tact, Elgart asserts the danger still exists.

When a school system loses its accreditation, college-bound high school graduates lose their eligibility for the HOPE scholarship and risk not getting into their school of choice.

HOPE, Helping Outstanding Pupils Educationally, scholarships are funded by the Georgia Lottery and are offered to high school seniors with an overall grade of at least a "B."

Clayton County Public Schools losing its accreditation "scares me and concerns me more than anything," said Board member Ericka Davis. "I think any parent who has helped their child to maintain a 3.0 grade point average, so that they can get a free trip to college doesn't deserve to attend a school system that loses its accreditation. We've got to go over and over the policy and make changes that will make this system better."

In a previous story, the News Daily asked Diane Burns, director of Recruitment for Clayton College & State University, how the situation could affect a student applying to a college in Georgia.

"Always the answer to that question is, ?It depends'," Burns said. Students "still can be considered. They have to go through more. A student with really high test scores, letters of recommendation of support" and other accolades" would probably receive admission. "It's the average or below average student who's going to experience much more difficulty."

In the Board of Regents policy concerning requirements for home-schooled students and graduates of non-accredited schools, college applicants falling under that category can provide SAT scores and documentation proving their competence in each of the academic subject areas at the college preparatory level to be used in lieu of more conventional standards.

But all colleges have the right to raise their admission standards, Burns said.

Students transferring to other school districts could find problems with their new school accepting transfer credits and teachers wishing to seek employment elsewhere could find teaching at a non-accredited school a blemish on their resumes, Elgart said.