Confusion, tension, raised voices and a police officer escorting a man away.

This was not the end of a typical neighborhood street disturbance.

It was a May 5 meeting of the South Carolina PTA in which a dispute boiled over between members of the state and the Charleston County PTAs.

The squabble at the Charleston County School District office involved differences over the election of county PTA officers and leadership problems.

State PTA officers believe the county PTA didn't properly elect its officers while the county group feels it was unfairly targeted by the state and denied the assistance it needed to properly function.

On May 1, several days before the disruptive meeting, the differences prompted the state PTA to revoke the charter of the Charleston County district-level PTA.

Charleston County's School District is aware of the dispute but doesn't have any legal or administrative authority over the county or school PTAs.

The squabble exposed long-standing differences between the Charleston and state PTAs. The groups are supposed to help further efforts by individual school PTAs to help students by improving cooperation between parents, teachers, school administrators and government. The tiff threatens to undermine those efforts.

Local fallout

The disorder has left PTA members at Charleston-area schools confused and concerned about the organization's leadership at both the county and state levels.

Relations between the two PTAs began to deteriorate in February after the state PTA removed the Charleston district-level PTA president Elizabeth Dillon.

Then the state PTA decided that Dillon had improperly appointed officers to fill several vacancies on the county PTA's executive board instead of including all Charleston County PTAs in the vote, Clifford Fulmore, president of the South Carolina PTA, said

Fulmore said the state met with "resistance" after it told the county group its executive board was not sanctioned.

"Rather than continue on with the conflict, we voted to pull the charter and start all over," he said.

County PTA members said that they did nothing wrong and that the state PTA never communicated any concerns or suggestions before pulling it's charter.

"We've received nothing from the state," Henry Copeland, first vice president of the county PTA, said.

Copeland was the person who interrupted the state PTA meeting on May 5 to demand answers. A police officer, at Fulmore's request, escorted him out of the meeting. He was allowed to return a short time later.

During the meeting, Tanya Robinson, president-elect for the South Carolina PTA and a Dorchester District 2 school board member, said the state PTA took action after receiving dozens of emails from Charleston-area school PTA presidents and principals regarding concerns about Dillon, the president of the Charleston County PTA. Robinson didn't discuss details about the complaints, contending it was a personnel matter. Dillon could not be reached for comment.

Rocky history

The Charleston County district PTA has had its ups and downs over the years. The group was largely inactive during the 2007-2008 school year after its former leadership resigned.

Current members of the district PTA said they were also trying to restructure the group after two of its presidents resigned back to back.

"It had been unorganized and the state knew that," said Charleston County school board member Elizabeth Moffly, who is a member of the district PTA.

Charleston school board member Tom Ducker, said, "This is just a big distraction from what the PTA is supposed to be all about."

Shante Ellis, PTA president at Murray-LaSaine Elementary, doesn't know what to make of the situation.

"I primarily want the focus to be on the children, teachers and staff," Ellis said.

In the meantime, Fulmore plans to host a meeting this summer to allow PTA members from Charleston County schools to elect new officers and re-establish a district PTA for the county. He hopes to have a new charter issued for the district PTA before school starts.