School district fires employee; won't say who

tbarton@beaufortgazette.comJuly 23, 2013 

The Beaufort County Board of Education refused to disclose the name of an employee it terminated Tuesday, and its chairman retreated from statements made earlier in the day that it might have been former middle school principal Phillip Shaw.

Shaw, the former principal at Bluffton H.E. McCracken Middle School, has not been to work since November but has continued to draw his $93,774 annual salary.

District officials and board members said Tuesday state law bars them for releasing the fired employee's name, but failed to cite a specific provision of the law or a court decision to support their claim.

The board voted 10-0, with member Mike Sanz absent, to approve a recommendation from superintendent Jeffrey Moss to "suspend and terminate" the contract of the unnamed employee, subject to that employee's right to appeal before the board.

"The law prohibits us from mentioning the name," board chairman Bill Evans said after the meeting. "On strong advice from our attorneys, we cannot discuss the employee by name."

Before the meeting, however, Evans said he anticipated the board would vote on a recommendation from Moss regarding Shaw's employment.

"I suspect Dr. Moss has met with Mr. Shaw and his attorney," Evans said earlier Tuesday. "I don't think he (Moss) would come to us with a recommendation without having met with Mr. Shaw and his attorney ... . The board was not part of those meetings."

After the meeting, Evans denied making those statements.

When asked whether Shaw was still employed, Evans again said state law barred him from disclosing such information.

Pressed on that point, both he and Moss said Shaw is still on leave. They declined to say if he is still being paid.

"I know that frustrates people, and people will have a lot of legitimate questions," Evans said. "I wish I could give them answers, but have been told clearly by our attorneys that if we discuss a name it will violate South Carolina law."

Not true said Jay Bender, an attorney for the S.C. Press Association and a freedom of information expert.

"It sounds like nonsense to me," Bender said Tuesday evening. "If there is a motion to suspend or dismiss a teacher or principal, I don't think there's anyway to avoid naming who that person is. There would be no record. The minutes (of the meeting) would not reflect the activity undertaken because there's no name attached to it. ...

"The motion before the board should have identified the employee. I think that name had to be made public because an action was taken," he said.

An attempt Tuesday night to reach Shaw was unsuccessful.

THE BACKGROUND

Shaw left the school Nov. 8, about the time district officials began a review of McCracken's policies and procedures.

He was reassigned Jan. 2 to lead Right Choices, a program for students with serious disciplinary problems. He has not reported to that job.

Moss on Tuesday said Shaw was initially placed on administrative leave "pending the outcome of an investigation." He would not comment further.

Citing Shaw's right to privacy, district officials have repeatedly refused to elaborate on the nature of his absence, including refusing to say how much leave time he accrued.

Certain employees -- including principals -- can accrue up to 40 days of personal leave and 90 days of sick leave annually, in addition to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for specified family and medical reasons, according to Moss.

The district also had yet to respond to a lawsuit filed by Denise Gibbo, a former McCracken secretary, against it, former acting superintendent Jackie Rosswurm and guidance counselor Annette Ballard.

Gibbo, who left the school about the same time as Shaw, alleges she was harassed and libeled.

Shaw has alleged he was placed on leave because of complaints he made about Ballard, who, Shaw has said, irritated school staff members for years.

Complaints about Ballard by Shaw and others have not been addressed by the district, Shaw said in December.

Follow reporter Tom Barton at twitter.com/IPBG_Tom.

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