Former Bluffton principal requests public hearing on his termination

tbarton@islandpacket.comAugust 13, 2013 

Phillip Shaw

  • Bill Evan's full statement on Phillip Shaw's termination, upcoming public hearing

    District Superintendent Jeffrey Moss, pursuant to S.C. Code Ann. 59-25-430, has suspended Phillip Shaw, a professional employee of the District, and recommended the termination of his employment.

    The Beaufort County Board of Education acted at its meeting on July 23, 2013, to sustain Dr. Moss's action subject to the Board's duty to review the matter on the merits should Mr. Shaw request a due process hearing pursuant to S.C. Code Ann. 59-25-470.

    Mr. Shaw has now requested a public hearing and through counsel has waived his statutory right to have the hearing held within the timeframe contemplated by S.C. Code Ann. 9-25-470. I am informed that this is standard practice among attorneys to allow the parties sufficient time to engage in discovery prior to the hearing.

    Accordingly, Mr. Shaw's public hearing will be scheduled by mutual agreement of the parties, hopefully sometime in September. As soon as a hearing date is agreed upon, it will be publicly announced. The hearing will be conducted pursuant to S.C. Code Ann. 59-25-470. At the hearing, the Board is duty-bound to determine the merits of the Superintendent's action based solely upon the testimony and evidence presented at the hearing.

    Given the Board's statutory duty in this matter and the fact that Board members have taken an oath to uphold the applicable law, it would be inappropriate for individual Board members to have any discussions about the merits of this case with any third parties. Similarly, it would be inappropriate for third parties, including citizens of our community, media representatives, or District administrators, to contact or attempt to discuss the case, at this point, with Board members. Board members are required to approach this hearing with an open mind and must make their decision based upon the testimony and evidence offered at the hearing.

    We will make further public announcements concerning this matter through the Office of Communications whenever appropriate. The Board, individually and collectively, is committed to perform its statutory duty in an appropriate and professional manner. We hope we will have the support of our community in meeting this important public obligation.

After months of refusing to comment on the extended leave, suspension and recommended firing of a former middle school principal, school officials might soon be able to provide some answers, the Beaufort County Board of Education chairman said Tuesday.

Former H.E. McCracken Middle School principal Phillip Shaw has requested a public hearing before the school board to appeal his termination.

Attempts Tuesday to reach Shaw and his attorney were unsuccessful. Shaw drew a paycheck for about eight months despite not having worked since November.

The hearing is expected to take place sometime in September, school board Chairman Bill Evans said. A specific date has not been set.

On the recommendation of superintendent Jeffrey Moss, the school board voted on July 23 to "suspend and terminate" an unidentified employee subject to the employee's right to appeal. Until Tuesday school officials had refused to say who the employee was.

At the hearing, the board will hear from both sides -- Shaw and the district officials who terminated him -- then decide whether or not to uphold the firing.

"The public has had a lot of very understandable questions about this," Evans said, adding " it will be valuable to everybody that there is a public hearing to clear the air on ... what has happened over the past nine to 10 months."

Asked what information he expects to be divulged, Evans said he could not say -- the board has intentionally been left in the dark about the specifics of Shaw's case so as not to prejudice its judgment during the hearing.

"We give the superintendent broad latitude in personnel matters," Evans said. "... There has to be some place in there for trust that the superintendent knows what he or she is doing, and then go through the process, if necessary, to see if that (trust) is validated or not. We have to accept on face value that he made a recommendation that he can support."

Evans' issued a statement Tuesday saying it would be "inappropriate" for board members to discuss the case with "any third parties," including community members, the media and district administrators. It goes on to say those people shouldn't attempt to discuss the case with the board.

"Board members are required to approach this hearing with an open mind and must make their decision based upon the testimony and evidence offered at the hearing," the statement read.

Board members reached Tuesday agreed.

"I think this is good for everyone, including the board, to hear the facts of this case and sort through rumor and hearsay," said board member JoAnn Orischak.

Moss declined to say Tuesday why he recommended that Shaw be fired, saying it would be inappropriate to do so before the hearing.

Also Tuesday, the district responded to a public-records request filed by The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette, seeking Shaw's personnel file. The district provided some documents but did not include any documentation regarding his leave or possible dismissal.

Moss argued such information is exempt from disclosure under federal medical-privacy and state laws.

Shaw's request is unusual for a teacher or school administrator facing termination, according to the district and S.C. School Boards Association.

"Any kind of employee dismissal hearing is unusual. We've had only one in the past five or so years, and that was not public," district spokesman Jim Foster said.

Shaw has not been at the school since November, but continued to earn his salary of $93,774.

He had been reassigned to lead an alternative program for the school district, but he never reported to work.

Shaw left McCracken Middle School on Nov. 8, about the time district officials began a review of McCracken's policies and procedures. The review uncovered an unauthorized bank account in the school's name that Shaw has said he knew nothing about. The account was later found to be linked to the school's PTO and student council, and was closed. A Bluffton Police Department investigation found no criminal activity.

Shaw said in December -- in his only interview with the Packet since his leave -- that he believes he was placed on leave as a cover-up for complaints he made against a counselor at the school.

Follow reporter Tom Barton at twitter.com/IPBG_Tom.

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