School trustees accused of ‘disrespect’

Terri Breeden (from left), Lisa Herring and Gerrita Postlewait have been named finalists for the superintendent position at Charleston County School District.

In the wake of a mass shooting at a historically black downtown church, a local civil rights activist has accused the Charleston County School District of showing “collective disrespect” for the city’s African-American community by neglecting to postpone interviews with the district’s candidates for superintendent.

In an open letter, emailed Monday to school board Chairwoman Cindy Bohn Coats and the board, the Rev. Nelson Rivers of Charity Missionary Baptist Church said members “reached a new low last week” when they moved forward with scheduled interviews with superintendent finalists Terri Breeden, Lisa Herring and Gerrita Postlewait.

“Your level of insensitivity and disregard for the Black community is amazing,” Rivers wrote. “How could you, as a group, expect the necessary participation from the Black community, clergy and other leaders on last week so soon after the brutal murder of our family and friends? Was it arrogance? Why did you go forward with such a plan?”

Amid communitywide calls “for healing and understanding,” Rivers accused the school board of returning to “business as usual.”

A 21-year-old white man with reportedly racist views has been charged with murder in the shooting deaths of nine African-American parishioners during a Bible study meeting at Emanuel AME Church on June 17 — a block away from CCSD headquarters on Calhoun Street. The school board canceled its meeting last Monday in light of the shootings, but went ahead with the superintendent candidates’ interviews and public receptions, in which community members were invited to meet them.

Postlewait, a former Horry County superintendent, was the first of the three candidates to interview with the school board last Monday. Herring, the district’s deputy superintendent for academics, was interviewed on Tuesday. Breeden, the assistant superintendent of instruction for Loudoun County Public Schools in Northern Virginia, was interviewed on Wednesday.

In the letter, Rivers asked the board to delay the hiring process until “the Black community and others who were shortchanged last week are able to fully participate.” He told The Post and Courier he hasn’t yet heard from Coats.

“They could have stood in the door and looked down the street to see Mother Emanuel, and that is an important point,” Rivers said in an interview Tuesday. “If a killing cannot get you to stop, pause and respect the community that’s been so savaged by this, then what will?”

After the shooting, Coats and Vice Chair Chris Staubes elected to continue, rather than the delay, the interview process as scheduled, said board member Todd Garrett. And their decision, according to the Rev. Chris Collins, one of three black trustees on the nine-member board, was made without soliciting input from the entire board. Coats and Staubes did not respond to multiple phone calls from The Post and Courier requesting comment.

“That’s true, they were not able to participate because of the various funerals,” Collins said, of the black community. “We should have waited. There is no emergency. We have two good employees right now running the school district for us, Dr. Herring and Mr. Bobby.”

Former Superintendent Nancy McGinley resigned in October after the firing and rehiring of Academic Magnet High School football team’s coach over a postgame victory ritual denounced as perpetuating a racial stereotype demeaning to African-Americans. The school board then selected Michael Bobby, the district’s chief financial officer, as her temporary replacement, and promoted Herring, the district’s chief academic officer, to deputy superintendent of academics.

The move angered Rivers and Charleston NAACP chapter leaders who felt Herring, who is African-American, had been overlooked. Charleston NAACP President Dot Scott maintains the white majority on the school board continues to disregard Herring as a serious candidate.

In the months since McGinley’s resignation, black community leaders have characterized the district’s superintendent search as “tainted” and “corrupt.” In May, Michael Miller, another black school board member, revealed that each of the six white board members privately met or spoke with Postlewait months before she had been named a candidate. Miller and Collins chose not to interview Postlewait last Monday in protest.

Scott and Charleston NAACP Vice President the Rev. Joe Darby agreed with Rivers’ letter to the school board.

“These people who got killed have children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews in the school system,” Scott said about the victims of the attack at Emanuel AME. “This disproportionately affected the black community.”

No offer has been extended to any of the three superintendent finalists. The board will meet Thursday morning to discuss the candidates and vote on a new superintendent.

Reach Deanna Pan at 937-5764.