An Orangeburg County charter school is asking the Orangeburg County School District to transfer unused federal COVID relief money to the school’s new sponsor.

The school district says it is working to ensure the funds are handled appropriately and legally before formally voting to proceed with the transfer.

The High School for Health Professions is a charter school sponsored by the Orangeburg County School District. The Columbia-based Limestone Charter Association will become the HSHP’s new sponsor on July 1.

The HSHP Board of Trustees sent a letter to OCSD Board Chair Ruby Edwards on May 2 requesting the district transfer almost $2.1 million in unused federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds to the association.

“We have submitted a formal request to be placed on the May 10 agenda for action to be taken on our request to transfer ESSER funds from the Orangeburg County School District to Limestone,” HSHP Board Chair Henry Jenkins said.

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“The funds are still there,” Jenkins said. “There have been some funds used, but there are some funds that are available and will be available. It is a multi-year grant.”

The HSHP was awarded almost $2.6 million in ESSER funds and has thus far received $486,608 from the OCSD, Jenkins said.

Jenkins said the district received the ESSER money to help students that may have fallen behind because of the COVID pandemic and the loss of in-person learning.

“The South Carolina State Department of Education has stated that it is lawful to transfer these funds,” Jenkins said. He said it is up to the local sponsor to do so.

“The money follows the child – in this case the money stays with OHSHP. The funds will be used to help students who have fallen behind during the pandemic. The unused funds will be used for the same purpose. This is a multi-year grant,” he said.

Jenkins said the HSHP applied for relief money and it was included in the application submitted by the OCSD.

Representatives from the HSHP board met with the entire school district board in closed session in April to discuss the matter of the ESSER funds, he said. No action was taken at that meeting.

The district said in a statement that, “throughout the last 10 years, our administration and board have been faithful supporters of the High School for Health Professions, upholding the best interest of its students and school through its charter.

“Students and families throughout our county, including those who attend the HSHP and other schools, should rest assured that our administration and board will take appropriate measures to legally and fairly appropriate funds in their best interest.”

The OCSD says it is working with the high school, the State Department of Education and its attorneys on the matter.

“ESSER funding is disbursed as reimbursements, and purchases must follow appropriate processes,” the district said. “Any delays in ESSER support have been related to the HSHP’s noncompliance with federal and state guidelines for request and receipt of funding. Our staff has and will continue to support the HSHP through this transition.”

The district says it does have concerns about the transferal of the remaining funds at this time.

“ESSER funding reimbursements and allocation management extend beyond the end of this fiscal year and into the HSHP’s transition to their new charter sponsor’s authorization,” the district said. “There are contractual matters that have yet to be executed and our attorneys are investigating with due diligence to ensure whatever action the school board decides can be legally implemented as it relates to these new federal funds that have been requested to be transitioned to a new charter association that was not established at the time funds were awarded.”

In the interim, the district said the matter is not going to be voted on during its May 10 meeting.

The district said, “The board will receive an update from its attorneys during closed session to discuss the legal matters and proposed contractual arrangements that are being developed to ensure fair distribution of resources to the HSHP that will also allow the district to appropriately account for resources in future audits following the HSHP’s transition.

“The superintendent anticipates that during a future meeting, Orangeburg’s school board will discuss the HSHP’s request and known liabilities before voting on the matter in open session.”

The OCSD announced in March that its 10-year affiliation with the HSHP will end June 30.

The High School for Health Professions, which was founded as a charter school in 2012, did not submit a charter renewal application with the school district, opting to go with Limestone.

The high school currently has about 130 students.

Charter school and HSHP officials say the transition will have no impact on students currently participating in interscholastic afternoon activities with the OCSD, such as band and ROTC.

The change will also have no impact on academic offerings, workforce training and dual-credit attainment, according to LCA officials.

As it relates to the school’s new sponsorship, Jenkins said overall the board and the school are moving forward and excited about the future.

“They are doing fantastic things,” Jenkins said of Limestone. “They have a super team working together with charter schools. The Orangeburg High School for Health Professions has demonstrated that we are about a vigorous student instruction and high student achievement. They embrace that. It is a win-win situation.”

Jenkins said he does not believe the issue related to the outstanding ESSER funds will negatively impact the school’s relationship with Limestone.

Jenkins said the high school will continue to serve the Orangeburg community.

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