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Marlboro students walk out to protest board decision on principal, staff

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Students in Marlboro County are unhappy to learn their principal will not be returning for the 2022-23 school year.

Students in Marlboro County walked out in protest Tuesday against the district’s decision to not renew the contracts of County High School Principal Jamane Watson, assistant principals Kaydareon Graham and Sheila O’Neil Brown, and Director of Career and Technology, Wycilia Brown Cassidy.

The administrators will not be offered new contracts once the school year ends in June. They will not be able to reapply for their jobs either, and might not be offered teaching contracts.

Tuesday’s student walkout was in protest of what many reportedly believed was a termination of the administrative staff. In a statement, interim Superintendent Donald Andrews emphasized that Watson et al were not terminated. [Read full statements from Andrews and School Board Chair Jackie Branch below.]

Dr. Watson was hired in 2020 by Gregory McCord, who resigned as superintendent in October, following his admission that he’d allowed his college fraternity to operate on school grounds.

The district reportedly is looking to move in a new direction with its high school administrative staff. Dr. Watson did not return calls for comment.

Statement by Acting Superintendent Donald Andrews:

On the morning of February 15th, students walked out of Marlboro High School to express concern over allegations that Marlboro High School administrators are being terminated. Marlboro County School District understands and appreciates the value of the voices of our community, in particular those of our students, and supports their First Amendment rights. We are here to serve our students and their best interests, and our top priority is their education and safety. My staff and I encourage our children to speak up and speak out while we balance day-to-day operational decisions, including keeping our students engaged and in the classroom. To that end, the district takes this opportunity to clear the air with regard to the staffing allegations to the extent that is practicable with regard to confidential personnel information.

To be clear, the administration did not terminate any Marlboro High School administrators. Any information contrary to that fact is not accurate and not supported by the administration. As plans are being considered for the 2022-23 school year, staffing positions, among other things, maybe considered as the District experiences change and growth as we move forward together. Again, our top priority is our students, their families, and our employees. I look forward to addressing our community at an appropriate time and encourage our students to contact my office directly with any comments, ideas, or concerns, as I maintain an open-door policy for everyone.

Statement from Board Chair Jackie Branch:

This morning, Marlboro High School students initiated a walkout to express their concerns with staff. The Board and the District understand and respect our students’ opinions and their First Amendment rights to lift their voices, which is an important cornerstone of American freedom. With that in mind, the Board is dedicated to ensuring a top-quality curriculum and a safe environment for our children, which is our primary focus. Along those lines, the Board provides time outside of class instruction during its public meetings for comment on matters that it is permitted to legally address in a public forum. Students, parents, and community members are welcomed and encouraged to come before the Board.

We want the public to know that terminations of certified staff, including administrators, must be upheld by the Board in accordance with state law. Rest assured that the Board has not voted on any administrator terminations at this time and would only do so if presented such an option by the Interim Superintendent as he carries out the daily operations. As with any change and growth, we all experience new ideas and visions, and the Board is committed to moving forward in a positive direction. We look forward to engaging in dialogue with our administration and the public as we plan for the remainder of the 2021-22 school year and beyond.

Scott Morgan is the Upstate multimedia reporter for South Carolina Public Radio, based in Rock Hill. He cut his teeth as a newspaper reporter and editor in New Jersey before finding a home in public radio in Texas. Scott joined South Carolina Public Radio in March of 2019. His work has appeared in numerous national and regional publications as well as on NPR and MSNBC. He's won numerous state, regional, and national awards for his work including a national Edward R. Murrow.