Abbeville County School District, et al. v. The State of South Carolina, et al.
|Special Thanks to the Plaintiff Districts' Legal Team:
Carl B. Epps
Laura C. Hart
Stephen G. Morrison
In December 1953, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. The Brown appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court included the appeal by Thurgood Marshall from a South Carolina case called Briggs v. Elliott. The Briggs case stemmed from a 1949 petition by the parents of African American children attending school in Clarendon County, South Carolina, seeking adequate funding.
Fifty years after Brown v. Board of Education and Briggs v. Elliot, the poor, rural, mostly minority children of South Carolina are still waiting for an equal and adequate opportunity to get an education. As a result of the state's failure to provide an equal educational opportunity, the poor, rural school districts brought suit against the state in a case called Abbeville County School District, et al. v. The State of South Carolina, et al. Abbeville is being tried today in the Clarendon County Courthouse, the very same Clarendon County involved in Briggs v. Elliot. Nelson Mullins has been representing the poor, rural school districts in their lawsuit and the lawyers at Nelson Mullins have been working on the case "pro bono" for over two years. Nelson Mullins has thus far donated over Five Million ($5,000,000.00) Dollars in free legal services to the lawsuit.
There are thirty-six (36) plaintiff school districts in Abbeville case. Of those thirty-six (36) districts, eight (8) acted as the representative plaintiffs at trial. The plaintiffs in Abbeville are receiving an inadequate education and the following evidence introduced at trial about the representative districts, reveal the plight of these students:
- The plaintiff districts are 88.4% minority v. the State average which is 48.1%.
- The plaintiff districts are primarily poor with 86% of the students on free and reduced lunch v. 55% for the State average. (Free and reduced lunch enrollment is the typical standard used by educators to judge poverty.)
- The percentage of schools in the plaintiff districts that are unsatisfactory and below average are 75%; v. only 17.4% of the total schools in South Carolina. This is a long term systemic problem as 79% of the schools in plaintiffs' district ranked unsatisfactory or below average for 3 years in a row (2001-2003).
- The high school dropout rates for the plaintiff districts range between 44%-67%.
- The teachers in the plaintiff districts:
- Make less money than the teachers in other districts;
- Have fewer continuing contracts than teachers in other districts;
- We have fewer teachers with advanced degrees;
- We have fewer teachers on continuing contracts;
- We have twice as many teachers teaching with out of field permits; and
- We have almost 3 times the number of teachers with substandard certificates.
In addition to the Five Million ($5,000,000.00) Dollars in fees donated by Nelson Mullins to help these children, the firm has dedicated significant human capital to the cause by assigning as many as twenty-five (25) lawyers and paralegals to help try the case. Moreover, Nelson Mullins has donated leading edge technical support for the trial including a fifty (50) inch plasma monitor, smaller flat screen monitors for the witnesses and judge, and state of the art trial software. The trial lasted over one hundred (100) days. A Circuit Court decision is expected by the end of 2005.
After a year of deliberation, Judge Cooper ruled on December 29, 2005 that the State did not provide a "minimally adequate education" in early childhood education but further held that the State's system of public education in grades K-12 did meet minimally adequate standards.
Both the plaintiff districts and the State of South Carolina filed motions to reconsider with Judge Cooper in 2006. Both motions were dismissed another year later in July, 2007 and the plaintiff districts, now 36 school districts in number due to the consolidation of two districts since 1993, voted unanimously on September 6, 2007 to appeal their case to the South Carolina Supreme Court.
Final arguements in the case were made on June 25, 2008. A ruling by the Supreme Court is pending.