Former middle school principal's termination appeal not expected this month

sbowman@islandpacket.comSeptember 6, 2013 

Phillip Shaw

PROVIDED PHOTO

A public hearing for the former H.E. McCracken Middle School principal appealing his termination is likely another month away, but depositions of witnesses could begin soon, the Beaufort County Board of Education chairman said this week.

Attorneys for the school district and former principal Phillip Shaw exchanged witness lists Aug. 30, board Chairman Bill Evans said.

When Shaw requested the public hearing Aug. 13, Evans said it was expected to take place in September. However, it's unlikely the hearing will take place this month, according to school district attorney Ken Childs of Childs & Halligan in Columbia.

Childs said each side had several witnesses, but did not release any of their names.

Only a change of heart by Shaw would be likely to derail a hearing: Childs said the district is not currently negotiating a settlement with Shaw and it is "highly unlikely" there will be one before a hearing.

Attempts Friday to reach Shaw and his attorneys -- Fatima Zeidan and Clifford Bush III of the Law Office of Clifford Bush III in Beaufort -- were unsuccessful.

The hearing would be much like a trial. The school board would hear from both sides -- Shaw and the district officials who terminated him -- and then decide whether to uphold the firing.

Evans said board members, acting as judge and jury, have not been speaking about the case with third parties or each other. He said the board doesn't know any details concerning the dismissal charges and wants to go into the hearing unbiased.

The school board has hired attorney David Duff of the law offices of Duff, White and Turner in Columbia to advise the board on the correct procedures for the hearing.

"We have a desire to move forward on this and bring some sort of closure," Evans said. "But we want to make sure it is done absolutely right so Shaw's rights are protected and the board's decision can't be challenged."

The school board voted July 23, on the recommendation of superintendent Jeffrey Moss, to "suspend and terminate" an unidentified employee subject to the employee's right to appeal. That employee was later identified as Shaw.

Shaw left McCracken Middle School on Nov. 8, but continued to earn a salary based upon a $93,774 figure while on leave.

At about the same time as Shaw's departure, 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.

No other details about the review have been released.

Shaw was reassigned in January to lead an alternative program for the school district, but he never reported to work.

Shaw said in December -- in his only interview with The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette 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.

If the board decides to overturn the firing, Evans said, Shaw, the board and the district would then have to make a joint decision about his "future relationship with the district."

Follow reporter Sarah Bowman on at twitter.com/IPBG_Sarah.

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