Governor’s office receives Berkeley County petition with more than 2,500 signatures

Berkeley County community members created a petition to the governor asking him to appoint the inspector general to look into the school board.
Published: Dec. 1, 2022 at 4:58 PM EST|Updated: Dec. 1, 2022 at 6:59 PM EST
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BERKELEY COUNTY, S.C. (WCSC) - Berkeley County community members created a petition to the governor asking him to appoint the inspector general to look into the legality of the school board’s actions at the Nov. 15 meeting.

Pastor Tory Liferidge of Grace Church started the online petition just a day before Thanksgiving and it received more than 2,500 signatures in a week.

Liferidge, with the help of others who signed, formally submitted the petition to the governor on Nov. 28.

A representative for Governor Henry McMaster’s office confirmed receiving the document and offered the following statement:

As the governor has done with several requests for investigations into school districts, he will thoroughly review the information sent to the governor’s office to determine whether an investigation by the inspector general is warranted.

There is not a specific timeline for when the governor could make that decision.

The petition alleges that the school board acted at the November 15 meeting illegally. A state statute says new board members must take office a week after the election results are certified. The county board of elections certified the results on Nov. 11.

At the Nov. 15 meeting, the board voted to fire and replace the superintendent and legal counsel and to replace the board chair.

Senior Pastor Darien Jones at Moncks Corner AME Church says a lot of his congregation are educations, former educators, parents and students who have a lot of interest in the district, so it has been a hot topic of conversation.

“When you make rash decisions that have the kind of impacts that firing a superintendent has, then you look at further destabilizing your entire school system. And for those of us on the outside looking in, it doesn’t look like the decisions are being made in the best interest of the schools or the teachers or the parents, or the children or the families who are affected by change in leadership,” Jones says.

The school board did release a lengthy response of their reasons for firing former Superintendent Deon Jackson about a week after the meeting. Community members still say they want the board to be held accountable for taking drastic and potentially illegal action at the Nov. 15 meeting.

“My hope is that justice will be done. Now, what justice looks like is different for a lot of people. But my hope in particular, is that partisan politics are taken out of the decisions of the school board,” Jones says.

Jones and others he’s talked to about the meeting say they think the sudden actions were meant to make a bold statement. He says bringing politics and dramatic moves into the school district meetings is not what’s best for the students or teachers.

“If they wanted to go in a different direction, I think they could have handled it with more care. It seemed really abrupt. We’re looking at the middle of the school year, not even the end of the semester,” Jones says.

Jason Gourdine, a Berkeley County resident, says he hopes the governor will call for an investigation and if the Inspector General can verify the board broke the law, there will be accountability so the board doesn’t act in an illegal way again.

“We are hopeful that with these meetings that we’re having and what’s being taken up with the governor will be taken in consideration – what’s the best for the students what’s best for the teachers in the actual system. That’s our goal to keep the Berkeley college educational system, a good place, educate our kids in a hope that the community can be happy with the way it’s being run,” Goudine says.

Gourdine and Jones say getting an office like the governor and Inspector General to acknowledge the actions of the board and find out if they acted against the law is important to holding the elected officials accountable, having their actions verified by statewide agencies and restoring trust between the community and officials going forward.

Gov. Henry McMaster has the authority to ask the Inspector General to look into a school board based on a law updated this year. Only one investigation into a school board exists currently. In June of 2022, the governor requested an investigation into Richland District 2 after getting complaints of a dysfunctional school board from many parents and community members. The Inspector General released a report on the Richland District 2 board in November.

READ MORE: Richland Two board dysfunction detailed in scathing SC Inspector General report

READ MORE: Gov. McMaster requests investigation into Richland School District Two

Since the law allowing for school board investigations was recently added, there is little precedent for what warrants an investigation and report. There is also little precedent for what a report could achieve in terms of reversing actions. Berkeley County members say they are asking for an investigation to get recognition of the school board’s situation and create accountability at the state level.