Charleston County School District addresses FOIA violations

Published: Sep. 14, 2022 at 3:18 PM EDT|Updated: Sep. 15, 2022 at 4:41 AM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - The Charleston County School District has taken steps to address the accusation that it violated the state’s Freedom of Information Act law in a pair of meetings that happened back in July.

Those steps came after Attorney General Alan Wilson got involved.

The district is required by law to inform the public about what’s going to be voted on 24 hours in advance. That did not happen during the district July 18 meeting, according to new documents released from the district.

Four major items were added to the board of trustees meeting agenda between 8:16 a.m. and 3:45 p.m. when the meeting was scheduled to begin that day.

School board chair Eric Mack called it an inadvertent mistake. The items did appear on the Committee of the Whole agenda as early as July 14. The committee of the whole’s meeting took place immediately before the board of trustees meeting. Usually, items approved at the committee of the whole are automatically placed on board agendas for meetings that typically take place two weeks later.

At the request of Attorney General Alan Wilson, the board held a special meeting on Monday to re-vote on all four agenda items in question.

Mack released a statement on the effort to rectify the situation:

I think the action taken by the Board clearly demonstrates that we do take, very seriously, the public meeting laws related to FOIA; and that when an inadvertent mistake occurs, like this one, we will take the corrective action needed to ensure that all our agendas and our votes are proper and legal.

Board member Cindy Bohn Coats first called out the FOIA violation after the meeting. That prompted Attorney General Alan Wilson to send a letter to district leaders asking to re-vote on the items that violated the law.

The FOIA rules require government bodies to publish a meeting agenda 24 hours in advance to give the community a chance to know what actions will be taken. The initial agenda made available to the public before the July meeting did not include four items:

  • Student Outcomes Governance Framework
  • K-8th Grade ELA Curriculum Recommendation
  • Policy EBBA – Prevention of Disease/Infection Transmission – First Reading
  • District Policy and Board Policy Manual

Since the meetings were on the same day, any items approved unanimously could have been considered at the Board of Trustees meeting under the agenda item called “consent agenda.” However, none of the four items in question received a unanimous vote.

Ed Kelley, a Charleston County School District parent who is also running for a seat on the school board, thinks the district leaders are just sorry they got caught.

“I believe the people that are currently running the school board, I don’t think they have the kids’ best interest at heart,” Kelley said. “I think they have another agenda outside of what’s best for our children.”

All of the items were approved by the board at the July 18 meeting. They were all approved a second time at Monday’s special meeting.

It was unclear whether any additional legal action was planned.