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Alternative school in limbo: Plans for Clemson to assume control of school for troubled teens

Clemson University could begin to oversee a public residential school for troubled teens, according to the Anderson Independent Mail. 

John de la Howe, a sixth through tenth grade institution in McCormick County, was founded in 1797 as a farming school to assist poor and orphaned children. The school now provides 24-hour care for students with behavior problems on its 1,200 acre campus. The state-supported school is composed of 72 students and roughly 70 teachers and dorm counselors. 

Currently, the school is in jeopardy of losing its accreditation. The Department of Education warned the school on Feb. 1 it had 20 days to respond to preliminary finding of accreditation denial. Dr. Daniel Webb, the school’s president, said that the school is working towards addressing

problems. He disagrees with the Education Oversight Committee’s claim that his school spends $92,100 annually.

“The issue is students come and go, often not staying a full year,” said Webb.

The Independent Mail reported that Rep. Kenny Bingham, R-Cayce, chairman of the House writing budget committee’s K-12 panel, said that one option to save the school is turning John de la Howe into a public charter school sponsored by Clemson University.

“Clemson has the expertise and background to go in and save the school,” Bingham said. “I believe it’s the only way to keep the doors open.” 

The two institutions have partnered in the past on agricultural projects.

“We have worked with Clemson extension,” said Webb. “They have assisted us in obtaining soil samples, providing guidance and helping with the cattle and any general questions regarding agriculture.” 

The House Budget Committee’s proposal would put Clemson in control of the school on July 1. Clemson would then consider a recovery process. 

Webb said that the specific details are unclear.

“(John de la Howe) is still not sure what the General Assembly’s intent would be if Clemson is given oversight,” Webb said. “Our Board of Trustees have not been a part of any discussions related to Clemson oversight.”

According to Webb, no John de la Howe officials have been consulted about plans in relation to the proposal. Clemson officials have not released any new information, except that the proposal is under review.

The Tiger is awaiting a response from Clemson’s Media Relations.

Webb said that he is uncertain of the future.

“It has to be approved by both bodies of our General Assembly, and of course that has not happened yet,” Webb said.

Rep. Sharon Erickson voted against the proposal. She said that Clemson oversight is “kicking the can down the road.”

“Asking Clemson to study the issue is a waste of time,” Erickson said. “These are children’s lives at stake.”

This is not the first time legislation has debated the future of the school. A 2003 proposal suggested closing the school and sending students to a military-like public school in Columbia. A 2014 proposal recommended putting the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) in charge of the school. Both plans failed.

According to DJJ, a final decision on the school will be made before next month’s department of education meeting.

Webb said that in the meantime, the school will continue its mission.

“We will continue to serve the state’s most vulnerable students until a decision has been made,” Webb said.”We will continue to provide them a safe haven, so they can heal, grow and make lasting changes.” 

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