Let sun shine on District 5 government
I recently sent a letter to the Lexington-Richland 5 administration making an offer it cannot refuse: I have begun video-taping meetings of the school board, and I am willing to provide the video to the school district to be posted on its Web site.
Across the country, cities, towns and school districts have begun putting recordings of their meetings on their Web sites.
It's a win-win situation. Ordinary citizens sitting at home can see how the decisions that affect them are made. And public officials can take pride in knowing they are giving the public - particularly working folks who may not have time to attend their town council or school board meetings - an opportunity to view the process.
If government officials are truly serving the interests of the people they represent, they have nothing to lose, and everything to gain, by being transparent.
This is especially true in light of recent developments: As I have implored the school district to keep the promises it made to voters in the last referendum, the administration has accused me of spreading misinformation, leaving many to wonder which of us is telling the truth. Fully opening the meetings to the public would help put those questions to rest. It empowers citizens - taxpayers, parents, grandparents, teachers and school volunteers - to decide for themselves what is fact and what is fiction.
In the past, district officials have chosen to write newspaper columns to debate those who question their actions. This has allowed the administration to distort the statements of its critics, to make it appear that anyone with valid questions about school board actions or honest concerns about the direction of our school district is simply uninformed on the issues or is lying or - even worse - that they have impure motives. Posting a video account of school board proceedings could provide a more responsible alternative to the name-calling and distortions that have gripped this district for far too long.
I am offering the video free of charge, so the district would incur no additional cost for providing this very simple, but very important, public service.
I love Lexington-Richland School District 5. This is my home. I have volunteered countless hours to improve our schools and our community. I truly believe that putting school board meetings on the Web would encourage greater participation, give citizens the government "sunshine" we want, alleviate much of the crisis of confidence that exists in District 5 leadership and improve relations between the people and their school system. And when that happens, everybody wins.
Other people's children
Here we are barely into a new year, and already two infants in South Carolina have died after being beaten or shaken by a parent. Another died under questionable circumstances. In 2009, 22 children died as a result of homicide by child abuse; that number will no doubt rise as investigations of the 42 cases still pending are completed.
As we watch the devastation in Haiti, our hearts break for the children left without parents, injured without adequate treatment, terrified beyond comprehension. Yet as we listen to public discourse on strategies to help these children, we can't help but wonder why we are so quick to care for other people's children rather than our own. Where is the outpouring of sympathy for the thousands of American children abused or dying each day? When will we begin a public debate on child abuse and neglect? Who will step up to demand that funding be restored to child protection and welfare agencies?
In December, a group of nearly 60 child advocates from across the state came together to discuss strategies to address the recent increase in child deaths and traumatic injuries in South Carolina due to abuse. One of those strategies is to ask legislators to restore funding for child protective services.
Last month, the National Children's Alliance issued a call to action asking Congress to address the epidemic of child fatalities due to child abuse. The number of American children who have died over the past six years is more than double the number of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan in the same period. In fact, there has been a 35 percent increase in the number of child abuse fatalities since 2001. Child abuse and neglect is the most pressing public health issue in America and South Carolina.
Consider this a call to action. The voices of 60 child advocates can make a little noise. Thousands of voices across the state can make a deafening roar that cannot be ignored. Call or e-mail your legislators. Tell them we need to make the protection of children our first priority. More important, when you plan your own giving, seek out your local Prevent Child Abuse S.C. affiliate or Children's Advocacy Center. These agencies are working so hard to protect children in the face of increasing caseloads and severe funding cuts. Give first to those agencies. Let's begin taking care of our own children before taking care of other people's children.
DONNA J. HAPPACH
Executive director, ParentingPartners
Executive director, S.C. Network of Children's Advocacy Centers