2022 in Review: Leadership questions, classroom crises topped education stories

Lowcountry schools faced controversies from changes in leadership to violence and threats in the classroom.
Published: Dec. 26, 2022 at 9:21 AM EST
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Lowcountry schools faced controversies that saw superintendents resigning or being fired, contentious moments with parents and curriculum and violence in the classroom, all as educators tried to keep the focus on teaching.

The year started with turbulence in the Charleston County School District after Superintendent Geritta Postlewait stepped down with little to no explanation. To this day, some still wonder what prompted the sudden decision. The school board named Don Kennedy to the interim superintendent role as a controversial push to have nonprofits run public schools under the Reimagine Schools proposal made its way through the school board. That initiative ultimately failed but not before North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey threatened to form his own school district if the school board went forward with it.

The board would eventually drop interim from Kenndy’s title and a slew of employees would either leave or be fired, including the district’s chief of staff, chief academic officer, head of the Department of Alternative Programs, the director of facilities management and the staff attorney.

The year also revealed a number of bad actors in the classroom. In Charleston, Carolyn Anderson, a principal who had recently been promoted was investigated and fired after being accused of sexually harassing a male coworker and telling a secretary that the employee “needed sex” to put her in a better mood.

Deer Park Middle School’s principal resigned after multiple investigations probed her efforts to protect her son, who attended the school, from punishment.

“We need them to send a message that this isn’t okay for anybody that’s going to be here,” Deer Park parent Jenna Vanopdorp said.

In Dorchester County, an Oakbrook Middle School teacher was investigated for using racial slurs after a parent accused them of referring to a Black teacher as “the monkey next door” and then having students do a cotton-picking exercise.

A school resource officer also made the spotlight after being fired for an alleged inappropriate relationship he had with a student at Stratford High School. The Berkeley County School District alerted Goose Creek Police in March, and, after an investigation, the police chief fired Officer Conrad Stayton.

The school shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas in May shocked the nation. Twenty-two people, mostly young students, died in the shooting. But Lowcountry schools saw a degree of violence in their hallways.

A video recorded in a Deer Park Middle School classroom showing one student choking another to the point of unconsciousness cost a teacher his job. The student was OK, but the teacher, who could be heard in the video, was placed on leave and would not return.

A report of shots fired in October at Burke High School made headlines, followed by another report at Beaufort High School and another inside a Midlands school. But there were no actual shootings. The FBI launched an investigation into the false reports that were called into 911 involving more than 12 schools across South Carolina. No arrests have been made, but the incidents left parents on edge.

While no actual shootings occurred, authorities did find firearms on campuses this year. Three guns were found at a middle school in Goose Creek and another was found at a school in Charleston. Police in Summerville launched investigations into four incidents that occurred in just eight days, ranging from multiple fires, a gun and threats to the school.

The November election also shook things up at Lowcountry school districts. Voters elected a nearly completely new board with the group Moms for Liberty sweeping five of the eight races.

In the first meeting of the new Berkeley County School Board, members fired the district’s superintendent, Deon Jackson, in a shocking decision that made national news. The board then voted 6-1 to have Dr. Anthony Dixon serve in the role. That action led to a lawsuit.

Many of those big stories of the year will continue to fuel follow-up reports in 2023.