Who holds power over school board superintendents’ decisions?

Published: Nov. 15, 2023 at 3:52 PM EST|Updated: Nov. 16, 2023 at 5:12 PM EST
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - In the past year, three Lowcountry superintendents have been terminated or ultimately forced to resign, leaving some folks noticing a pattern of who the school boards are letting go.

“We’ve noticed that it’s not only a Lowcountry issue, but a statewide and national issue,” Hiram E.M. Davis, chair for the activist group Coalition for a Better Colleton, said.

Over the last year, Berkeley, Colleton and Charleston County schools have all lost their superintendents, with some of these school boards not even providing a reason why.

“We are seeing that it’s happening to predominantly African American superintendents and it’s also happening to superintendents that have school boards being dictated by the organization Moms For Liberty,” Davis says.

And Davis isn’t the only one. U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn says he’s sounding an alarm for folks to pay attention.

“My district tells me that this is exactly what led to the end of reconstruction,” Clyburn said.

Clyburn adds what he thinks the political group Moms For Liberty wants.

“To cleanse, or bleach, our educational systems,” Clyburn says.

The Moms for Liberty Berkeley, Charleston and Colleton County chapters provided the following statement:

School board members hire and evaluate the Superintendent. Citizens can hold school board members accountable for their decisions at the ballot box. Moms for Liberty, Berkeley, Charleston and Colleton Counties heard the concerns from parents and citizens and educated and empowered them to attend meetings, and speak publicly to inform school board members of their concerns. This is the responsibility of every citizen who cares about our schools. We encourage people to join us as we strive to save American Education.

Our Mission statement is Moms for Liberty is dedicated to fighting for the survival of America by unifying, educating and empowering parents to defend their parental rights at all levels of government. Anything that states otherwise is harmful misinformation.

Clyburn says he’s focused on calling attention within his own district, such as in Claredon, Colleton, Charleston and Richland counties that have, or had, African American leadership. He says the NAACP and African American legislators in Columbia have posed an investigation into these decisions.

Davis and Clyburn were asked if it is still a race issue if one African American superintendent is replaced with another.

“If they replaced them with an African American, ultimately, they did that to just make things smooth over,” Davis said. “Make it look good.”

Clyburn agrees.

“Being African American is not what this is,” Clyburn says. “Not being brainwashed is what this is all about.”

Moms for Liberty Berkeley, Colleton and Charleston chapters provided this additional statement in response:

Clyburn is not being honest and is continuing to further a false narrative demonizing a group of concerned moms that want ALL SC children to receive a quality education and right now the students across the board aren’t reading or doing math at grade level in many counties.

After emailing higher-ups in education across the state, the South Carolina School Boards Association is the closest match to who can oversee these decisions.

The South Carolina School Boards Association declined to do an interview, but Executive Director Scott Price provided the following statement:

The South Carolina School Boards Association is a non-profit, membership-driven organization that provides services to, and training for, the state’s school boards in areas such as, but not limited to, policy development, advocacy, board governance and finance. The hiring and firing of a superintendent is, by law, squarely within the responsibility and authority of a locally elected school board. SCSBA does not have oversight or authority over local school boards.

Davis encourages parents to teach their kids the importance of voting for elected officials because they have an impact on so much of their daily lives. He says the community needs to prioritize who they put in the school board’s power in the next election.

Clyburn says he does not want history to keep repeating itself.

“We are not going to sit quietly by and watch you disrupt the professional development of African Americans and miseducate African American children,” Clyburn said.

Duke Buckner, the Republican candidate running for U.S. Congress in the 6th Congressional District in the 2024 election against Clyburn, released a statement after hearing Clyburn’s comments:

Instead of trying to find solutions to help our failing schools and improve education, Mr. Clyburn is spewing racial hate and division. Moms For Liberty has nothing to do with why our schools have been failing in the 6th Congressional District for the last 30 years since he has been in office.

To fix education, we need to get back to teaching the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic and support our teachers.  In addition, parents should have the right to have a say in their child’s education and the choice to send their child to the school that will best fit their child’s needs.

Last, we need to get back to teaching patriotism and skills that are relevant to our students’ chosen careers.