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Letter to the Editor

It is time school board members and administrators are held accountable

web posted July 9, 2009
Dear Editor,
Many in the community may be aware that last May, my son was featured on a WJBF news feature regarding school bullying. For several years my son had been subjected to his clothes being forcibly removed in school, his locker vandalized and most recently at STHS subjected to repeated thefts and sexual slanders.  In my research,  I came to discover that many of the incidents which had occurred (the clothes being forcibly removed and sexual slanders) were in fact a violation of a students civil rights under Title IX.  However, though STHS officials were notified (the instructor and Asst Principal, Mr. Green) the complaints were not filed or investigated as a sexual harassment complaint, required not only by school district policy, but also by federal law (and yes, a formal complaint has been filed with the U.S. Dept of Education, and they are investigating).

In speaking with Dr Crenshaw, who was at first empathetic to our concerns, we became disappointed when her methodology was to have my son mutually apologize to one of the perpetrators.  When my son caught the thief in the middle of class stealing an expensive replacement calculator from his book pack, he asked for its return.  When the thief refused, my son attempted to forcibly retrieve his rightful property (please note, this was the second calculator stolen of which the school resource officer showed little to no interest in assisting in its return).

My son received a 2 day suspension and a subsequent appeal to the school board was denied.  The school board, superintendent’s and principal’s position was….”this is district policy.”  The school board agreed with school officials that the “letter of the law” was violated and the policy must be enforced.  During this process, I began to wonder why the school officials never filed the sexual harassment complaints, as required by law?  During my tenure as the NJROTC instructor at STHS, I had recalled the Principal and Asst Principal “coaching” faculty members about refraining from writing “fights” up as fights….because “technically” they were considered assaults, and thus tracked at the state and fed levels toward overall school report card assessment.   

I reviewed STHS report card, and yes, there is a category on the school report card which tracks such serious offenses including sexual assault and harassment.  After speaking to a relative who is a school superintendent, it was suggested that school officials (superintendent and principals) contracts are most likely “performance based.”  Thus, if they don’t perform adequately (e.g. as reflected in the school’s report card), as specified by the contract, then they could be terminated.  I believe many of you may see where I’m going with this, which is natural human nature to refrain from documenting those items which can be a negative reflection upon one’s own performance and assignment which they are accountable for and to us…the citizens of this county.

In order to verify, with fact, if this was true, per the district policy, I submitted an information request under the Freedom of Information Act.  For those not aware, this a South Carolina Law (patterned after the Federal Law) which gives all of us the right to petition for public documents and information to hold public officials accountable….here’s the  reference, and this pamphlet was put out by the SC Attorney General’s Office, to assist public officials with handling FOIA requests (http://www.scattorneygeneral.org/newsroom/pdf/foia.pdf).

On May 23, I submitted a FOIA request to the superintendent’s office, by U.S. Mail and by e-mail requesting statistical and other information.  Both were acknowledged in receipt by the Superintendent’s Office. 

On June 9th, I submitted a second FOIA requesting copies of the superintendent’s and STHS principal’s employment contract (this is specifically permitted under FOIA since they’re publicly employed officials), and I requested a status of the first FOIA and informed all members of school board via their e-mail, of these requests.

To date, I have received nothing from the superintendent’s office, other than acknowledging that it was received and passed to the superintendent personally.   The following was excerpted from the FOIA Law (I bolded and underscored the text):

“ (c) Each public body, upon written request for records made under this chapter, shall within fifteen days (excepting Saturdays, Sundays, and legal public holidays) of the receipt of any such request notify the person making such request of its determination and the reasons therefor. Such a determination shall constitute the final opinion of the public body as to the public availability of the requested public record and, if the request is granted, the record must be furnished or made available for inspection or copying. If written notification of the determination of the public body as to the availability of the requested public record is neither mailed nor personally delivered to the person requesting the document within the fifteen days allowed herein, the request must be considered approved.”

In refraining from answering my request, by default, the school district has agreed to both of my requests, and are now in non-compliance of state law.  For non-compliance of this STATE LAW, the regulations states,

“SECTION 30-4-110. Penalties.

Any person or group of persons who willfully violates the provisions of this chapter shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor and upon conviction shall be fined not more than one hundred dollars or imprisoned for not more than thirty days for the first offense, shall be fined not more than two hundred dollars or imprisoned for not more than sixty days for the second offense and shall be fined three hundred dollars or imprisoned for not more than ninety days for the third or subsequent offense. “

So, my question to the Superintendent’s Office (and school board), is it not a bit of hypocrisy to hold students to the “letter of the school policy” yet not hold yourselves to the “letter of state law?”  What a wonderful civics lesson you instruct upon the community with your non-compliant example.  Think of the next time your office comes to the community requesting support or assistance, yet your institutional arrogance treats the citizens with such contempt.  To each and every school board member, you have a superintendent who is factually in violation of a state law, what are your actions?  To the citizens of Edgefield, I could care less if the superintendent is black, white or purple, for 22yrs myself and others like me did the hard part, defended our country in combats, supporting the constitution and laws of this country, all the school board has to do is the easy part, hold our appointed officials accountable to do their jobs legally and ethically…if they don’t, then lets vote all of the bums out.  A simple FOIA cuts to the heart of our Republic, we have an inherent right to public information and our officials need to understand and fully appreciate this fundamental right and their accountability to us for it. 

Lt. Col Mark S. Jebens, USMC (Ret.)
Edgefield, SC

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