BCSD school board abruptly fires superintendent

An abrupt turn of events at Berkeley County School District’s school board meeting on Nov. 15 resulted in the surprise firing of the superintendent and in-house legal counsel followed by the hiring of a new superintendent and legal counsel. 
The turbulent mid-year transition came in two separate motions to fire superintendent Deon Jackson along with in-house general counsel Dr. Tiffany Richardson. Both motions passed by a vote of 6-3, with much anger and disgust from dissenting board members and members of the community in attendance who chanted phrases such as “unjust” and “no process.” 
Jackson was hired in July 2021 as the first Black superintendent in BCSD’s history. He worked in the district for more than a decade, including as the first principal of Cane Bay Middle School. Richardson, a graduate of Stratford High School, was hired in April 2021.  
The votes in favor to fire Jackson and Richardson included: board chair Mac McQuillin, vice chair Sally Ballentine Wofford, secretary Michael Ramsey, Joe Baker, Kathy Littleton and Jimmy Hinson. The board members who opposed the firings were David Barrow, Yvonne Bradley and Crystal Wigfall.
Both Richardson and Jackson excused themselves from the meeting without comment. Board members Bradley and Wigfall followed suit and dismissed themselves before the end of discussion. Citizens in attendance joined them to form a mass exodus.  
“The board policy needs to be revised, amended to give reason why you’re terminating someone,” Bradley said. “… How in the world can you terminate somebody without giving a reason.” 
Jackson has been replaced by Dr. Anthony Dixon, Charleston County School District chief of schools and former BCSD chief academics and innovation officer and chief administrative officer. Dixon was a semifinalist for the superintendent position that Jackson was ultimately appointed to last spring. He formerly served as principal for Philip Simmons High School, Philip Simmons Middle School and Cainhoy Elementary School. As well as assistant principal at Daniel Island School. 
Richardson was replaced by Brandon Gaskins, an employee of Moore & Van Allen law firm. Gaskins previously served as deputy chief counsel to former S.C. Gov. Mark Sanford.   
The motion to terminate Richardson was made by Littleton. The motion to terminate Jackson was introduced by McQuillin, the Daniel Island and Philip Simmons representative of District 2. The board did not specify the rationale for Jackson’s firing. He earned a proficient rating from his recent school board review. 
When asked for the grounds for firing Jackson, McQuillin replied vaguely that it was a “personnel matter.” However, his colleague, Barrow, said that he was told that the cause stems from an “unconstitutional” and “unlawful” contractual matter. 
When Jackson was hired as superintendent last year, he was given a multi-year contract with a provision that a supermajority must vote unilaterally to terminate him with “no cause” from his position as opposed to a simple majority. In this case meaning that six board members would have to terminate Jackson as opposed to five. This is exactly what happened at the board meeting. 
Barrow cited an opinion from a local legal professional that said Jackson’s contract was not illegal. Andrea White from White & Story LLC informed Barrow that Jackson’s provision is common practice. 
White, a member of the Richland County Bar and the South Carolina Bar, represents a number of school districts around the state. White practices in all areas of school law, with an emphasis on providing advice and counsel on issues relating to personnel matters and employment discrimination. 
The question remains whether Jackson’s provision is a violation of state law. White noted that there haven’t been any cases in South Carolina circuit and appellate courts that address this issue. 
Reached via email after the meeting, McQuillin added, “We understand that the public wants and deserves answers regarding Mr. Jackson’s termination, but the prospect of litigation and the fact that the termination involves personnel issues limits our ability to comment fully at this time.  However, we expect to be able to share our rationale in the near future, and we are confident that we made a decision that is in the best interest of the district and its students.”
Barrow, who hired Jackson as an assistant principal at Timberland High School in 2006, called the termination a “political witch hunt,” a “travesty,” a “sham” and a “political hit job.” He questioned if there were any “clandestine meetings” among board members outside of executive session prior to the vote.  
McQuillin said via email that “…there was no meeting prior to Tuesday’s Board meeting. Four board members were re-elected incumbents. On Thursday of last week, in accordance with Board policy, those board members requested that then Chair of the Board Dave Barrow add the personnel item to the agenda’s executive session. Prior to the meeting, Mr. Jackson and Dr. Dixon were notified of the agenda items. On Tuesday, the Board met as a whole, for the first time, to discuss the matters in executive session and returned to regular session to vote on the matters.” 
The school board authorized Dixon to hire a deputy superintendent, chief academic officer and to restructure his cabinet without further board action.  
Efforts to reach Jackson for comment were unsuccessful. Barrow said, when asked for help reaching Jackson, “He is not responding personally at this time.” Dixon did not respond to emailed questions prior to the paper going to print.
This is a developing story that will be updated as new information becomes available.

Daniel Island Publishing

225 Seven Farms Drive
Unit 108
Daniel Island, SC 29492 

Office Number: 843-856-1999
Fax Number: 843-856-8555


Breaking News Alerts

To sign up for breaking news email alerts, Click on the email address below and put "email alerts" in the subject line: sdetar@thedanielislandnews.com

Comment Here