More than three dozen people waited for about two hours as trustees met in secret. Photo provided.

Many are still left without answers after a Monday night special meeting of the Charleston County School District’s (CCSD) Board of Trustees sparked confusion and anger in dozens of community members who sat for nearly six hours, only to be told to go home. 

Board members backed by right-wing political group Moms for Liberty — board chairman Pamela McKinney and trustees Carlotte Bailey, Keith Grybowski, Edward Kelley and Leah Whatley — reportedly called the meeting to discuss newly hired Superintendent Eric Gallien’s contract, but neither Gallien nor the other trustees — Darlene Roberson, Carol Tempel, Courtney Waters and Daron Calhoun II — reportedly were notified of the meeting or its purpose.  

But minutes after the meeting began, McKinney called for a vote to enter executive session to consider “items covered by attorney-client privilege,” a move that S.C. Press Association attorney Jay Bender said was illegal. 

“That is not one of the permitted reasons for a closed session,” he told the Charleston City Paper. “If the discussion was for a ‘contractual matter,’ it was again an impermissible topic. The permitted reasons are narrow and specific, but school boards typically act without actually having read the law.”

According to Bender, state law says the purpose of a closed session must be specific and must indicate what it relates to. 

“The September 11 special called meeting was to clarify the duties and responsibilities of the superintendent based on the contract,” McKinney said in a statement Tuesday. 

But Bender said if the contract had already been negotiated, there would be no basis for an executive session. Board members earlier this year voted 6-3 to approve Gallien’s contract, with Bailey, Whatley and Kelley voting against approval. 

“These people are confused,” Bender said. “We have elected them as our representatives, but they have concluded they were elected to be our rulers, and that’s not how democracy functions. It’s authoritarianism at the local level.”

Local activists rally against board

Several community activists gathered at noon Monday for a press conference ahead of a regularly scheduled 3 p.m. meeting. At the press conference, the Rev. Nelson B. Rivers III, vice president of religious affairs for the National Action Network, likened the special meeting to a lynching. 

“Today, in Charleston County, this board plans to try to lynch Dr. Gallien,” he said. “But we got news for them: lynching is over. … we’re not going to let you lynch him publicly or privately here. Our children are on the verge of a breakthrough, and how dare you try to take us back to from whence we came.”

The Rev. Nelson Rivers points during a Tuesday press conference. Activist Millicent Brown and others look on. Photo by Skyler Baldwin.

Community members were also outraged at an agenda item for the regularly scheduled 3 p.m. meeting of the Committee of the Whole, which ultimately sought to replace the curriculum currently in use in CCSD schools. 

“We have a superintendent who has been on the job 70 days who it appears that five of the nine board members want to replace for no reason whatsoever,” community activist Thomas Dixon said late Monday. “We have a curriculum that has produced the best district-wide improvements in CCSD in decades and has finally gotten Black and Brown children enthusiastic about going to school, and the same five of the nine board members want to replace this working curriculum.”

The item was removed from the agenda after trustees discussed the agenda for more than a half hour. 

Another community member who attended the meeting and asked not to be identified said Monday, “I was completely dismayed by the dysfunction on display at today’s CCSD school board meeting. The school board seems unable to effectively run a meeting, set an agenda, communicate with the public or each other with transparency or professionalism. It’s disturbing and our children deserve better.”

After trustees met for about four hours, they then started the special meeting. McKinney immediately asked for a motion to enter executive session, but was met with several objections. Tempel and Waters said because Gallien’s contract was public, any discussions regarding it should be held publicly. These objections were ignored, and a vote to enter executive passed 5-4, with all Moms-for-Liberty-backed board members voting in favor. 

Board members were in the secret session for almost two hours. After leaving the executive session, they took no action and quickly adjourned. Outraged public attendees received no explanations for what discussions had taken place behind closed doors. 

“We’ve been here since 3 p.m.,” one attendee yelled. 

Shortly after, several attendees began chanting, “No justice, no peace,” a rallying cry for racial justice movements. Others yelled at board members as they were leaving that they would attend every meeting moving forward.

“We’ll keep coming, again and again and again,” one woman said.

The meeting was recorded and posted on the school district’s public YouTube channel, though the recording ends before many attendee’s voices can be heard.

Andy Brack contributed to this story.

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