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School board members push for answers after unexplained $100k ‘student injury’ settlement

Updated: Dec. 3, 2020 at 7:25 PM EST
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Some Charleston County School Board members said they have not been given details about a $100,000 “student injury” settlement paid out by the district this year, and now a couple of them are pushing for answers.

Last month, Live 5 Investigates first reported that the district’s lawyers are refusing to fully release the public documents that would explain why that amount was paid out on July 13.

“I think it would be fair to apprise the board of what has happened, what’s going on, and why the district feels it’s so important to keep this information private,” Board Member Kristen French said.

“I was not aware of any monetary compensation awarded to a CCSD student without the board being informed of that action,” Board Member Dr. Helen Frazier said. “As a new Board member, I am going to question why board members were not informed and what policies we need to implement to make sure this does not happen again.”

The two documents that were released by the district after more than a month of back and forth showed that this settlement involved a lawsuit that was filed in federal court. However, they were redacted of all information that would explain what happened and who else was involved.

The district’s lawyers also redacted the name of the attorney for the plaintiffs along with the case number that would allow the publicly available documents to be found through the court’s website.

In response to the redacted documents, attorney Kaitlin Gurney, who represents Live 5 News, wrote a letter back to the school district saying the redactions go “well outside the scope permitted by either FOIA or the Family Educational Rights to Privacy Act (FERPA).”

She added Live 5 News does not challenge the decision to redact the name of the student but pushed for “revised copies of the settlement documents with narrower redactions.”

A few weeks later, School District General Counsel Natalie Ham responded with another letter declining to provide more information.

Board Chair Rev. Dr. Eric Mack and Board Member Joyce Green defended the district’s decision and said if more information was released the student’s identity could be figured out.

“In this case, there was no physical harm to the student nor were there any hospitalization that took place,” Mack said. “We’re trying our best to be transparent as we possibly can, and I just hope the community has that trust in us.”

“I don’t know the particulars, but it is my understandings that if there were any disclosure of the school or any of that, it would be an automatic known factor of who was involved,” Green said. “The public has to have some confidence that the district is doing its part if there are disciplinary actions that need to be taken.”

French said she’d like this settlement addressed at the next board meeting or sooner.

“I think it is important that court documents be public. They’re intended to be public. And, personal information should be redacted,” French said. “However, if you want to know there’s a systemic problem with an organization, having access to those settlement documents can give you an idea.”

Board members Cindy Bohn Coats, Erica Cokley, Kate Darby, Lauren Herterich, and Courtney Waters did not respond to requests for comment.

The next school board meeting is Dec. 14.

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