The Charleston County School Board chairman has asked his fellow board members not to speak out on their own about policy and instead focus on their agreed set of goals.
In a letter to fellow board members, Chairman Eric Mack said “rogue statements” are counter-productive, as is the idea of board members hosting independent community meetings.
Mack also asked members to choose their words carefully when conducting business outside of their official role.
Board Member Kevin Hollinshead said he felt the memo was directed, in part, toward him after he led several non-district sanctioned community meetings this summer.
“As an elected official, you’re obligated to meet with your constituents,” Hollinshead said. “To try to discourage them from doing that is taking away the freedom of speech.”
Mack said the letter was not directed to any board member in particular and that the letter he sent was “just one example of the various ways used to ensure effective and appropriate boardmanship.”
"We just don't want the community to get confused as to what's official board comments and what's a personal viewpoint," Mack said.
He cited discussion surrounding a controversial recommendation to merge Buist Academy for Advanced Studies and Memminger Elementary School. A mission critical action team presented the recommendation to board members in June, but the board has not formally discussed or voted on the recommendation.
"Parents were up in arms about this merger, and yet we have not even had that discussion," Mack said.
Board members Cindy Bohn Coats and Kate Darby said they didn't feel like Mack's letter was out of line.
Coats said misinformation is easily spread at independent meetings hosted by individual board members, which can make their job more difficult.
“It certainly is a distraction we don't need,” Coats said.
Darby, the board's vice-chair, agreed.
“Instead of us focusing on what are we doing to make our schools better and what are we doing to make more equity in our schools, we’re worried about having to follow up on things that other board members have said,” Darby said.
The letter comes as board members are gearing up to make big decisions about magnet schools, school consolidation and the education inequities that exist throughout the district.
“It's time to implement and hold accountable, with fidelity, some real changes in our operations and educational delivery. Because we have all said we believe that's necessary,” Coats said.
Coats said she has been disappointed with the progress made since a December meeting when the board approved ten magnet school-specific recommendations. She cited recommendations made by mission critical action teams, Clemson University and the AdvancED Improvement Network.
"We've got seven or eight different things, all basically saying the same thing," she said. "So when are we going to take them and say, 'OK, these are the next three things we're going to do, and we're going to do them because they're going to have the biggest impact?’ ”
In the meantime, Hollinshead said he will continue to meet with constituents. He said he has two more community meetings planned that will take place in the coming months.
“You’ve got to give parents the chance to speak what they feel,” Hollinshead said.
The board's code of ethics makes no mention of independently hosted community meetings.
But Darby said she is confident the board will vote to host its own community meetings in the future.
"We, as a district, need to make sure that we’re getting information out to people and that we’re having community meetings and that the nine of us on the board are speaking as a unified voice."
The next board meeting is scheduled for Aug. 26.