‘We need answers’: Concerns raised over Charleston Co. school superintendent’s suspension

Huggins to serve as acting superintendent during investigation
The board voted 5-4 to place Dr. Eric Gallien on paid administrative leave but refused to provide details about what was to be investigated.
Published: Sep. 26, 2023 at 4:57 PM EDT|Updated: Sep. 26, 2023 at 11:39 PM EDT

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - The Charleston County School Board of Trustees’ decision to place the district’s superintendent on paid leave Monday night is prompting questions from some board members as well as some state lawmakers.

The board voted 5-4 to place Dr. Eric Gallien on paid administrative leave but refused to provide details about what was to be investigated.

“I’m frustrated, completely frustrated. I feel as if we need answers,” Board of Trustees Member Daron Calhoun says.

Gallien was hired back in July before board members Carlotte Bailey, Edward Kelly, Keith Grybowski, Leah Whatley and Pamela McKinney, all of whom are endorsed by Moms for Liberty, voted to suspend him.

“That is frustrating to the point where our constituents get frustrated at us because we are seen as one. That’s the way we’re supposed to be, as one,” Calhoun says. “However, it’s hard to think of us as one when things like this happen.”

“It’s disingenuous, and it shows that we don’t care about the right things here,” State Rep. Marvin Pendarvis says. “It’s unfortunate because the students are the main ones that are suffering.”

Calhoun was one of the four board members opposing the vote. He says they need answers after the decision left some in the dark.

“I’m saying it gets frustrating because everybody wants to claim that they’re an independent voice and an independent thinker and all these other things, but you’re not thinking independently,” he says.

Calhoun adds that he found out on Friday or Saturday that two new executive sessions were added to the agenda, but there was no background on what these items would cover.

“It says that in order to have a proper vote, you need to be well prepared for it. How can I be willing to prepare for something I don’t have the executive background on?” Calhoun says.

While the investigation continues, Deputy Superintendent Anita Huggins will serve as the district’s acting superintendent, Charleston County School District spokesman Andy Pruitt confirmed.

“This shouldn’t be this way. We are taking away from the kids, we’re taking away from the teachers, from the community members; we’re taking away all that valuable time from actually doing things that matter,” Calhoun says.

The same five members who voted to put Gallien on paid leave also voted against hiring Michelle Simmons as chief academic officer. She has been serving in that role on an interim basis. Simmons was just hired over a year ago but has been a part of the district for 24 years.

Pendarvis watched the meeting and says he and other community members who have reached out to him are outraged by the decision.

“I was frustrated, disappointed and frankly, outraged at the dysfunction of the majority faction of the school board,” Pendarvis says. “It seems that they’re hell-bent on disruption, and pursuing a political agenda instead of making sure that the needs of students are addressed.”

Both are seeking an investigation into the meeting and action taken by the board The Charleston Legislative Delegation is also asking for a similar investigation.

State Rep. Joe Bustos said he is communicating with the South Carolina Attorney General’s office about ethical concerns surrounding the meeting. Bustos released the following statement:

I want the actions taken by the Charleston County Legislative Delegation as well as all public bodies in Charleston to be open and according to SC Ethics Laws.

If the meeting held before the normal school board was attended by a quorum of members, without proper notice the members, in my opinion, committed an ethics violation.

The normal meeting should have been noticed in accordance with FOIA Laws including that they intended to go into executive. There is a list of reasons for executive sessions.

I intend to ask the State Ethics Commission to conduct an inquiry into both meetings for possible ethics violations.

Moms for Liberty did not respond to a request for comment. Only one of the other school board members, Dr. Carol Tempel, provided a statement:

I’m exhausted from fighting the devious actions. I don’t agree with the actions against Dr. Gallien. It’s unjustified.

Pruitt could not provide details on the reason for the vote, saying the district’s practice is to not comment on the specifics of personnel decisions.

“The decision made by the Board of Trustees [Monday night] and information about their decision-making is shared at their discretion,” he said.