Winston County is a small, rural county in northwest Alabama.  Double Springs, with just over 1,000 residents, is the county seat.  Its “claim to fame” is the fact that citizens here were very opposed to Alabama withdrawing from the Union during the Civil War.  When the Union Army invaded north Alabama in 1862, many locals joined forces with them.

Feelings ran so deep that county leaders met and made plans to secede from the Confederacy.  And though this never occurred, the county is still often called the “Free State of Winston.”

To say that some in Washington County can relate to the thought of seceding from Alabama is not much of a stretch.

Hardly a day goes by that I am not in contact with someone in Washington County regarding the continuing upheaval there about the location of a charter school, Woodland Prep, between Chatom and Millry.  They have fought this battle for more than 18 months and have hit one brick wall after another.

Their growing frustration is because no one will help them.  Like all local school systems, they pay dues to several statewide groups that are supposed to “represent” education.  But you can’t prove it by anyone in the county.  “Apparently we are supposed to just be seen and not heard–and keep sending money to Montgomery,” one told me.  This was evident in May when a charter bus load of folks made the 350-mile roundtrip to Montgomery and back to attend a state school board meeting–but were not allowed to speak.

How the hell do you pretend this is a democracy when citizens can not address a public body?” asked one person who was on the bus.  I do not have an answer for this very valid question.

The state charter commission has been no ally.

They have scoffed at their own guidelines, failed miserably when it comes to due diligence and paid the National Association of Charter School Authorizers thousands and thousands of dollars only to ignore their recommendations.

Or what about the legislature?  After all, they wrote the law that created the charter commission.  But turns out, they can’t even follow the laws they created.

The state school superintendent?  The state school board?  Those education groups that represent teachers, school boards, superintendents, principals, etc.?  The Alabama Education Association did send some lawyers to town, but as someone at the meeting said, “They blew in, blew off and blew out.”

Others have sent emails saying locals should not be overly concerned because the charter school will probably never open.  Wow.  Such a statement is little more than an affront to someone having to prepare for the potential loss of $2 million from their budget.  Maybe they are right.  But then, given how the charter commission acts, maybe they are wrong.

Alabama loves to pound its chest and proclaim its faith in all that is good and decent.  (Heck, the Ford dealer in Chatom was recently giving away Bibles to anyone who bought a new car or truck.)  But talking about the Golden Rule and actually putting it into action, are two entirely different things.  One Washington County educator summed it up this way, “Evidently in Montgomery the Golden Rule means we are to send them our gold and not question how they rule.”

Supposedly when Winston County was trying to figure out what to do, they met at Looney’s Tavern in Double Springs.  To my knowledge, there is not a Looney’s Tavern in Washington County.  However, I have no doubt that Jake’s Restaurant in Chatom, a popular meat and three, will gladly host a gathering of those who want to talk about creating the “Free State of Washington.”

I will volunteer to buy the coffee.