ALBANY, Ga. — During a Dougherty County Commission work session Monday morning, Commissioner John Hayes expressed “alarm” over a recent Albany Herald report on the Lee County School System’s plans to consider allowing children of active-duty military personnel at Marine Corps Logistics Base-Albany to attend Lee schools.
“My concern is the message this sends,” Hayes said after the meeting. “This could be another black eye on our community. And while this issue certainly isn’t this body’s jurisdiction, if you’re talking about the school system in the county you’re talking about all of us.
“We’re getting to a point where we could end up with a completely segregated school system.”
Lee County School System Superintendent Larry Walters said Monday the subject of allowing children of active-duty MCLB-Albany personnel to attend Lee schools was asked of a school board member by a parent on the base.
And while the question had been broached by the board in the past and rejected, Walters said a “feeling of patriotism that peaked with the death of Lance Cpl. Steve Sutton” led board members to reconsider the option.
“I’ve read some of the comments that people made about how corny that is, but the truth of the matter is that there is a great stirring of patriotism in our community,” the superintendent said. “When folks at the Marine base approached us about simply offering their children another school option, we sat down and talked about it.
“We’re not talking about a large number of students (112 total, according to MCLB-Albany officials), so we will discuss it further at our next board meeting (Sept. 10). If it is approved by the board, it would go into affect the next day.”
For active-duty parents who opt to move their students to the Lee County system, if the board approves the measure, Walters said there would be a tuition cost of $8.50 a day (or $1,504.50 for the entire school year) and no transportation would be provided.
“People have expressed a concern that if we give one group this option, others would come to us with the same request,” he said. “But this is a special case. The only other out-of-county group we allow to enroll students in our schools is our employees who have children. We will not be making exceptions for other groups.”
MCLB-Albany Public Affairs/Community Relations Specialist Pamela Green Jackson said in an email to The Herald that offering school options to active-duty military personnel with children is a common practice.
“It is becoming more common for military installations to have agreements with local schools to include those that already have Department of Defense schools on their bases,” she wrote. “Those that do not, have multiple educational options in their neighboring communities.
“We have a new commanding officer who wanted to ensure the military members who live on base have as many educational options as possible. Col. Don Davis is sensitive to the needs of military children because they move numerous times in their parents’ career. Their ability to plug into a school system that best fits their needs ... is crucial to their future.”
Dougherty Commission Chairman Jeff Sinyard said he understood the action being considered by Lee County and MCLB-Albany to be “an option given to all active-duty military installations.”
“It’s my understanding that federal installations give the children of active-duty military personnel options on school choice if it’s worked out with the local school systems,” Sinyard said. “I think in that same (Herald) article John referred to, it noted that 50 of the base’s children are already attending school in Worth County free of charge.
“My biggest prayer and concern is that I want to see the Marines at that base happy and content.”
Dana Wallace, a civilian who serves as educational liaison on the base, said Sinyard’s assertion is correct.
“(Allowing for school options) is something that’s absolutely done at active-duty military installations across the country,” she said Monday. “I hope everyone understands that this is not a matter of ‘this school is better than that school.’ It’s a matter of providing options that are best for each individual family.”