At Tuesday night’s specially called meeting of the Fairfield County School Board, Thomas Armstrong spoke during the public comment portion with regard to alleged improper conduct on the part of board members and an Atlanta anti-bullying field trip.
Armstrong called out chairwoman Andrea Harrison and any other board members who may have had a role in the field trip incident where funding was directed toward a field trip without that funding going through all the channels for approval.
Armstrong felt called to comment, noting that public discussion did not occur at the previous board meeting because the matter was handled in executive session.
He claims the executive session took place in violation of South Carolina Press Association requirements pertaining to the subject matter and that the board entered into executive session to discuss the legal matter.
According to the South Carolina Freedom of Information Act a public body may hold a closed meeting to the public if the meeting deals with individual employment matters, contract negotiations and legal advice, discussions regarding security personnel or devices and investigative proceedings regarding allegations of criminal misconduct.
Additionally, Armstrong called for board members to hand out punishment for the chairwoman’s overstepping her bounds in the field trip incident.
He noted the concern last year over the district code of conduct and that if any child did not comply with the rules that consequences would follow.
While acknowledging that this trip likely benefited students, Armstrong questioned the intent behind the chairwoman’s actions.
“When you spend my tax dollars and you change the rules you put the district and the children at risk. Board members need to be held accountable for their own actions,” Armstrong said.
He alleged a double standard in ethics and code of conduct that sends the wrong message to the school children in the district.
Armstrong went so far as to request that those board members involved in the case remove themselves from the school board.
Harrison took the unusual approach of responding directly to public comments though typically the school board does not respond to public comments immediately after those comments are made.
“I respect his comments. If there are citizen taxpayers who would prefer that I step down because I did something for children, then that shows the state of Fairfield County. The tax money was utilized on students. If tax money is not to be utilized on students, then how is it to be utilized?” Harrison said.
She also told the board and community members that when she made her request for the trip to be funded at that point her hands were out of the matter and it was handed over to superintendent David Eubanks’ office. Harrison said she represented the constituents of District One.
“The taxpayers and constituents of district 1 can remove me and so at the next meeting and we will let them say what they need to say about their representative.”
Harrison said that had she known the proper procedures for securing funding had not been followed through that she would have immediately taken action.
She was incredulous about the request that she step down from her position because she had done something to try and help children, making note that board members prior to her being on the school board had committed far greater sins that caused the district harm.
“When you have community members come and ask for your resignation because you were doing something for the children,” she said, “God help us.”