Superintendent, school board at odds again in Clay

Newest debate over possibility of losing accreditation

By Scott Johnson - Reporter, Francine Frazier - Senior web editor

FLEMING ISLAND, Fla. - The controversy surrounding the Clay County school district shows no signs of slowing down.

The latest chapter: the school board chair addressing a concern she calls both "politically motivated" and a "non-issue."

District officials told News4Jax if the Clay schools lose accreditation, diplomas from those schools would not be viewed as valid by colleges and universities. That's a worst-case scenario for Clay, which continues to deal with in-fighting between the school board and Superintendent Charlie Van Zant.

School Board Chairwoman Carol Studdard said the concerns about accreditation have been blown out of proportion. She said the issue was invented by people hoping to draw more voters to the polls next week.

Some people have been distributing fliers around Clay County, which say in part: "They (the school board members) have also caused an official warning from the state accreditation agency that our schools may lose their accreditation because of their other actions on the board."

Studdard said she hates to think raising the concerns was a politically motivated move.

"But it is very evident that some people have abandoned the truth in a quest to promote their political agenda," Studdard said a meeting Thursday night. "It is my duty as chairman of the Clay County School Board to tell you the truth about the accreditation issue. Our district is an excellent school district and is not now in any danger of losing our accreditation."

The school district is up for review by the accreditation board next March, and Van Zant has said previously that losing accreditation is a valid concern, because one thing the district has to prove is that the school board has a good working relationship with the superintendent.

Van Zant's critics said he's creating the accreditation issue to drive people to vote out some of his detractors on the school board in next week's election.

"I think the public can figure it out," Studdard said. "They're smarter than you think."

Van Zant, a former member of the school board, said the accreditation concerns are not intended as a political wedge issue.

"It is just not nearly as difficult to be a Clay County School Board member as it may seem some nights in this meeting room," Van Zant said.

He said if things go badly with the accreditation board in March, the district would be on probation for a year before being in danger of losing accreditation.

Studdard said in the last four to five decades, only two school districts in the country have lost their accreditation. She said it's almost impossible to do.

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