New DD4 superintendent hired amid lawsuit battle involving his former employer

VIDEO: New DD4 superintendent hired amid lawsuit battle involving his former employer

ST. GEORGE, S.C. (WCSC) - Dorchester District Four schools will be starting the new year with a new superintendent who was hired amid a lawsuit battle involving his former district.

Dr. Kelvin Wymbs has accepted the job and he will start his new role on Jan. 6, just a day before students head back to class.

“This decision came after a lengthy search which included screening applications, multiple interviews, and countless Board Meetings,” DD4 officials said in their hiring announcement. “We now look to Dr. Wymbs to continue to grow our District and provide our students with even more opportunities. We are excited about the great things ahead.”

Wymbs comes to the Lowcountry from Florence School District One where he was serving as the district’s director of secondary instruction.

He will replace Dr. Morris Ravenell, who has served the district as superintendent since 2014. The district announced Ravenell’s retirement in May and officials said he would remain in his post until a new superintendent was hired.

Contracts reveal Ravenell’s successor will be making about $20,000 more than he did.

Wymbs contract confirms he’ll make a salary of $140,000, while Ravenell was about $119,000 by the end of his contract.

Ravenell had been the only Lowcountry superintendent in 2018 making less than the average salary for his position in the Southeast, according to information from the School Superintendents Association.

However, Wymbs salary puts him above that average of about $125,000.

Their contracts also differ term lengths. Ravenell had signed on for a three-year deal, while Wymbs’ contract is only good through June 20, 2021, about a year and a half.

Meanwhile, the two educators are both facing pending civil lawsuits filed by former employees.

Wymbs has been named in a complaint filed by West Florence High School’s former athletic director and head football coach.

DD4 representatives have not said if this complaint was considered during the hiring process for the district’s superintendent position. Wymbs’ attorney has also not responded to requests for comment on the case.

In accordance with the Freedom of Information Act, Live 5 News requested a copy of Wymbs personnel record from Florence One School District for review.

According to court documents, Trey Woodberry accused the Florence One School District of defamation, and Dr. Kelvin Wymbs has been accused of civil conspiracy.

Woodberry claimed he began hearing rumors in 2017 that Wymbs was talking to Aynor High School’s head football coach about taking over the role at West Florence. In January 2018, Wymbs called Woodberry to tell him there was “a good person to take over football” when the plaintiff left, according to the lawsuit.

Wymbs, who was named interim principal for West Florence High in early 2018 following the resignation of former principal Pam Quick, encouraged Woodberry to reduce his duties to athletic director only after the plaintiff said he had no plans to leave his coaching position, the suit stated.

Woodberry said he received a call on Feb. 14, 2018 from the school’s assistant principal who gave him a deadline of Feb. 16 to choose which position he wanted to keep – athletic director or head football coach. Woodberry said he then tried to reach Wymbs but was unsuccessful.

Between Feb. 15 and Feb. 16, 2018, Woodberry said Wymbs and then-assistant principal Mark Frasier called him multiple times while he was with his son on a college baseball visit in Charleston to pressure him to resign as football coach. When the plaintiff said he believed he could do both jobs, the lawsuit claims Wymbs said, “I will get your a--, you (expletive), and “You will listen to a white woman but not a black man, f--- you.”

On March 1, Wymbs and Frasier told Woodberry to fire volleyball coach Hillary Pratt and basketball coach Pete Ellis, according to court documents. The plaintiff protested because he didn’t believe the two had done anything to warrant being fired and was then told to tell them the programs “needed to go in a different direction,” the lawsuit states.

The day Woodberry fired Pratt, Wymbs “scolded” him, claiming the interim principal heard other people knew about the plans to terminate the coaches’ employment. The plaintiff guessed the volleyball coach had told others after she was let go, according to court documents.

“Nevertheless, Plaintiff was warned that his actions over the next week would determine his fate at West Florence High School,” the lawsuit states.

On March 2, 2018, Woodberry submitted his written resignation to Frasier for the athletic director position due to his frustration with having to fire the basketball and volleyball coaches, according to court documents. However, he desired to remain as West Florence High’s head football coach.

Two weeks later, the plaintiff claimed Wymbs and Frasier accused him of not being loyal and a part of their “A-team.” The defendant then threatened to fire Woodberry if he did not have a good season in 2018, court documents state.

On March 18, another assistant principal, Randy Jackson, emailed Woodberry about a media request and told him that all information provided needed to be “truthful with 100% transparency.” Any and all false or misconstrued information would be “looked into” by the district, according to the lawsuit.

Woodberry was contacted by a member of the local media about accusations that Quick changed grades to keep athletes eligible and had mishandled the interview process when she hired the volleyball coach, court documents state. The plaintiff reportedly denied the interview was mishandled and identified the candidates interviewed for the job.

Regarding the reporter’s question about grade changes, Woodberry said a softball player had been ineligible because of a failure to attend classes, the lawsuit states. Quick told him the student had made up the missed classes and the failure-to-attend status had been changed. The student’s name was reportedly never used.

The next day, Wymbs told Woodberry he believed his interview notes regarding the volleyball coach position were insufficient, according to court documents. The plaintiff said he had submitted all interview materials and notes in his possession.

That afternoon, Woodberry was placed on administrative leave for not having adequate interview information in regards to the volleyball coach position and for his comments to the local reporter, the lawsuit states. While the plaintiff had not named any students in his media interview, district officials reportedly believed he had disclosed sufficient context for the student to be identified.

On March 22, 2018, Woodberry was told he was being removed from West Florence High and being reassigned to an elementary school, according to court documents. He was asked for a letter resigning as football coach.

Four days later, Woodberry submitted his resignation later stating, “At your request, I regretfully resign,” the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit references a Dec. 24, 2018 WMBF report regarding the Board of Education’s suspension of Quick’s educator certificate after an investigation found a change of a student’s failure to attend classes.

That evening, Wymbs sent Woodberry a text message that included a link to that online article as well as a message that said, according to the lawsuit, “I guess that you have seen the story on WMBF. Merry Christmas.” It was followed by emojis of a Christmas tree and a wrapped present.

“The lies are catching up with you your license is next!@ I cant wait!” said another text message included in the lawsuit.

Woodberry is asking the court for an unspecified amount of damages.

Another former West Florence High coach also filed a lawsuit against both the district and Wymbs over the handling of their resignation.

Peter Ellis, the school’s former varsity boys’ basketball coach, claimed Wymbs threatened his employment and pressured Ellis to resign from his coaching position.

Ellis’ complaint was dismissed from the courts permanently on Thursday.

Meanwhile, the complaint Ravenel is facing was moved to federal court in September.

The former director of finance for Dorchester County School District 4 sued the school district, Ravenell, and a co-worker.

Pushpal Harriott claims DD4 “engaged in an intentional, and systematic policy, pattern, and/or practice of discrimination against [her].”

The 36-year-old Indian-American woman was “subject to a discriminatory hostile work environment based on her gender/sex, national origin, and race,” according to court documents.

She was first hired in July 2018 as the school district’s director of finance. After some issues with a co-worker, she claims she reported that co-worker’s actions to no avail to Ravenel.

This co-worker’s “insubordinate and threatening behavior" caused Harriott “to believe she was in a hostile work environment,” the lawsuit claims.

In September 2018, Harroitt states Ravenel told her she was being untruthful with him about a vendor and her handling of financial procedures within the district.

Later that month, she was placed on administrative leave “pending a review and investigation into her conduct and performance.”

On Oct. 15, 2018, Harriott was demoted to a bookkeeper at St. George Middle School for the remainder of her contract.

Harriott claims the district provided “better treatment to [her] non-Indian and male colleagues,” according to court documents.

She later claims the superintendent and the co-worker’s “conduct was so extreme and outrageous as to exceed all possible bounds of decency and must be regarded as atrocious and utterly intolerable in a civilized community.” She adds their actions have also caused “severe emotional distress.”

The district, and those named, denied all accusations in their response to the United States District Court for the District of South Carolina Charleston Division.

Further action in the case has been scheduled for 2020.

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