Attorneys representing Charleston Day – one of the state of South Carolina’s most exclusive private schools – are pushing back against allegations that they lied to state and federal officials when they insisted 50.78 percent of students of the prestigious school’s students hailed from “low-income families.”
This claim was key in securing tens of thousands of dollars in Covid-19 money – funds the school didn’t need and was not entitled to receive, according to its critics. News of the questionable funding was first reported by this media outlet in February of 2022.
Earlier this year, we reported Charleston Day had been sued in federal court by one of its former trustees. According to that lawsuit, Charleston Day removed this trustee – and kicked his three children out of school – after the trustee and his wife raised questions about its shifting Covid-19 policies.
Not only that, school officials “actively interfered with (the trustee)’s ability to find another suitable school for his children,” according to the complaint. In fact, the enrollment director at another local private school, Mason Prep, told the trustee and his wife on March 11, 2022 that their children were being denied admission “due to pressure from CDS.”
The trustee in question – Charleston, S.C. attorney Matt Austin – formerly worked for the office of the U.S. attorney in South Carolina. His wife, Francie Austin, currently serves as deputy city attorney for North Charleston, S.C. Her father is former U.S. attorney Bart Daniel. Filing the lawsuit on their behalf? Another former U.S. attorney, Bill Nettles.
(Click to view)
Austin’s lawsuit named the school, its former board chair Emmie G. Hershey and current head of school Judith Foley Arnstein as defendants, saying they engaged in “retaliatory actions against (Austin) and his family after he engaged in protected activity by attempting to ascertain the scope of — and curtail — (the school’s) misappropriation and misuse of federal funds.”
To read my exclusive report on Austin’s unceremonious dismissal from the school’s board – and Charleston Day’s decision to visit the alleged “sins of the father” on his three children – click here.
Late last week – as Charleston Day kicked off its 2023-2024 school year – attorneys for the school filed a response to the lawsuit asking it to be dismissed “in its entirety with prejudice.”
“Defendants vehemently deny that there was any misappropriation or misuse of any Covid relief funds received by the school and affirmatively assert that (the school) followed all laws and regulations for a recipient of these funds,” the response (.pdf) claimed.
The school also assailed the Austins, accusing them of working “collectively to undermine the board, head of school, teachers, and health care providers” by opposing Charleston Day’s mask mandates.
“They willfully and callously jeopardized the education of every (school) student in the pursuit of personal objectives stemming from their objections to masking protocols,” the response alleged. “The Austins’ personal conduct, which included deeply personal, gratuitous, and wholly un-constructive attacks on the head of school, board chair, and others, incessant threats of litigation, and the fomenting of fear, intimidation, and uncertainty across the (school) community, repeatedly failed the standards of baseline common decency and fell well short of the standards expected of a board member charged with acting in good faith on behalf of the (school) rather than in service to his own interests.”
Wow … all that because they stood against mask mandates which have since been revealed to have done more harm than good?
The response went on to accuse Matt Austin of fabricating the allegations related to Charleston Day’s Covid-19 funding misappropriations.
“He manufactured these concerns only after it became obvious that his position on the board was tenuous,” the lawsuit alleged.
Wait … manufactured?
As this news outlet previously reported, Charleston Day caters to the Holy City’s elite – with wealthy parents shelling out nearly $25,000 per year, per child on its kindergarten programs and nearly $28,000 per year, per child for students to attend first through eighth grade, according to its tuition page. New students must pay an additional $1,000 on top of those rates.
Is that expensive? Yes. Although in fairness, South Carolina’s government-run schools are spending nearly $18,000 per year, per child in the current fiscal year to produce vastly inferior outcomes – and not just compared to the state’s elite private academies.
But the question for the school remains: How on earth can it possibly claim 51 percent of its students are “low-income?”
Nonetheless, this utterly outlandish assertion enabled Charleston Day to collect nearly $80,000 from the S.C. Department of Education (SCDE) as part of the federal government’s Emergency Assistance to Non-Public Schools (EANS) program.
In its response to the federal lawsuit, school attorneys claimed the inflated low-income figure provided to the state was “based on the low-income student ratio in the school attendance area in which the applicant school students reside.”
Seriously? They are basing it on the percentage of low-income students in surrounding areas?
“The (school) was completely transparent in doing so as the form requires the respondent to indicate which option it has chosen in responding to the question,” its attorneys wrote in their response.
Worth noting? A letter from state officials approving the additional taxpayer money noted payouts were “prioritized by the needs and poverty data for each nonpublic school … based on the information included in the application you submitted.”
Again, does anyone really believe Charleston Day was a “priority” recipient for emergency state and federal aid during Covid-19 based on its percentage of low-income students?
While school officials sought to wriggle their way off the hook on the dubious “low-income” claim, other assertions from its application for state and federal funding have recently come under scrutiny. Stay tuned for a report on those discrepancies in future coverage.
THE FILING …
(Via: U.S. District Court)
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
Will Folks is the founding editor of the news outlet you are currently reading. Prior to founding FITSNews, he served as press secretary to the governor of South Carolina. He lives in the Midlands region of the state with his wife and seven children.
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