One can argue whether Beaufort County School District officials made the right call in firing former Hilton Head Island High School football coach Tim Singleton and severing the district's relationship with his troubled Strive to Excel mentoring program, as well as the way they handled the whole affair.
But it is increasingly clear that their main concern was how the controversy would play with the public and not what was right for students, the school or the district.
And it is also clear from their handling of public records requests from this newspaper that they looked for ways to get around the state's open records law. Actions speak louder than words, and creating a situation of plausible deniability does not pass for credibility.
An email written by former Hilton Head High athletic director Mark Karen to principal Amanda O'Nan and very critical of superintendent Valerie Truesdale's handling of the Singleton firing should have been included in the district's answer to our Freedom of Information Act request.
The email accused Truesdale of lying to the media and interfering in the disciplining of Singleton.
We're told Truesdale doesn't typically handle such public records requests, but when Jim Foster came across Karen's e-mail, he went to Truesdale. He later went to the district's lawyers, who suggested a "privacy" excuse for not releasing the email.
Foster, at the lawyers' suggestion, then asked Karen to mark any emails that Karen considered private.
On July 26, the district provided the newspapers with 67 printed pages of emails, most of them about job offers Karen had received from other school districts. But the email wasn't among them.
Foster insists he was following his lawyers' advice when he withheld the email, but he is just one of a long line of district employees who have hidden behind lawyers' "advice." The excuse wears thin.
S.C. Press Association attorney Jay Bender rightly points out that under the law and legal precedent, public employees cannot expect privacy when discussing a public employee's performance with a public email account.
And what the sender of the message or its recipient think about what should be done with that message has no bearing on whether it can be kept from the public. To say otherwise is to turn the law on its head.
The law also states that if a document contains both public information and information exempt from disclosure, it can still be provided by redacting the private portions.
Tellingly, Foster and Truesdale would not identify information in the email that they thought met the law's privacy exemption.
In fact, at Foster's suggestion, O'Nan discussed with the newspaper the district's efforts to retain Karen as athletic director, information included in the withheld email.
On top of that, the email was distributed to principals and assistant principals ahead of the newspaper's publishing anything about it.
O'Nan said she thought the email was distributed as a "teaching opportunity" and lays out precisely why it should not have been withheld in the first place:
"People need to realize when you do something on school time on school property, it's public information," she said. "So when you send things on email, hello, you know, really. The world can read it."
And Karen's reaction to its distribution sums up the absurdity of their position: "If it was too private for the (newspaper), then why is it public enough for your leadership group?"
The answer seems to be it suited their purposes to release it to principals; it didn't suit their purposes to release it to the public. The law and its requirements are beside the point.
Truesdale, as the chief executive of the district, can't keep her staff's handling of FOIA requests at arm's length. She is responsible for their actions. Neither can Foster hide behind lawyers' skirts to justify his actions.
And Truesdale reports to the Board of Education. The board has some explaining to do about what happened on its watch.