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Education Lab

Moms for Liberty-backed Charleston school board takes office

new ccsd school board sworn in

New CCSD board members Keith Grybowski (from left), Pam McKinney, Ed Kelley and Carlotte Bailey are joined by family members and sworn in on Friday, Nov. 18, 2022, during a special board meeting. Charleston County School District/Provided

The newly-elected Charleston County School Board members have set a clear tone during the board’s first meeting.

After the board was sworn in during a special meeting on Nov. 18, officer elections were dominated by Moms for Liberty-endorsed members voting collectively — which could be a trend moving forward.

Actions in the meeting could confirm the fears of some community members, as well as Courtney Waters, the only incumbent to win a seat on the board this year.

“I hope they operate with some consideration for kids that are hanging in the balance,” Waters said. “I’m going to wait and see, but it’s certainly in my mind and in others that we’re in the midst of a huge destabilization.”

The new chair is Pam McKinney, who raised nearly $100,000 for her campaign for school board. The new vice chair is Carlotte Bailey, a former Charleston County School District employee.

Both were backed by the conservative parents rights group, which made a name for itself during the pandemic by railing against mask mandates.

Bailey’s appointment to the school board was uncertain until this week, when she stepped down from her position as a teacher’s assistant in the district. Board policy bans trustees from simultaneously working in the district.

Waters was nominated for the chair seat by Darlene Dunmeyer, and Carol Tempel was nominated by Dunmeyer. But both motions failed after all five of the Moms for Liberty affiliated candidates voted no.

After McKinney was appointed chair, she took over the meeting from Waters.

The board was down one member — representation in District 6 is still up in the air. Erica Cokley, a former board member, was certified the winner of the race after she unofficially dropped out. It’s not clear who will be appointed.

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Other Moms for Liberty-affiliated members also secured official positions within the board.

Keith Grybowski is the board’s new audit and finance committee chair, Leah Whatley is the board’s new committee of the whole chair, and Ed Kelley is the board’s policy liaison as well as an audit and finance committee member.

The board came together to unanimously appoint Carol Tempel as strategic education liaison and Dunmeyer and Waters are delegates for the 2022 delegate assembly — none were backed by MFL in the election.

Waters and Dunmeyer declined nominations to the audit and finance committee.

Actions in the board’s special meeting could set a precedent for future meetings, with MFL-affiliated candidates overpowering the others — and it follows a national trend. Moms for Liberty has recently swept school board elections across the country.

In Berkeley County, the new MFL-majority school board ousted the district’s first Black superintendent in its first meeting and banned the teaching of what they consider “critical race theory.”

Former CCSD interim chief of school Anthony Dixon was just selected as Berkeley’s new superintendent.

Waters said she hopes the new board members recognize that the district is in a vulnerable place, with a top leader leaving this week and the district still being led by a temporary superintendent.

“I am hoping that our board members recognize that there is a lot at stake at this moment,” Waters said. “We need leadership that is thoughtful and educated on what’s occurring and what we can do to make a difference. If we’re not careful, we could end up ineffective for the next few years.”

The board will meet for its first regular and committee of the whole meetings in December.

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Reach Devna Bose at 843-830-4027. Follow her on Twitter @devnabose.

Devna Bose covers Charleston County schools for The Post and Courier’s Education Lab. A Mississippi native, she previously reported on race and social justice issues in Charlotte.

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