A member of the Jasper County school board says she remains eligible to serve in office, even though her son is playing football for a public school in Beaufort County.
Alina Hamilton-Clark holds the District 1 seat representing the Ridgeland area on the Jasper County Board of Trustees. Her son is a senior wide receiver for Hilton Head Island High School.
Both positions come with residency requirements.
School board representatives are required to live in the district they serve; with few exceptions, public-school athletes must reside with their families within the attendance zone of the school for which they play.
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Asked after a Jasper County school board meeting Monday how she could continue to hold office while her son plays for a public school in a different county, Hamilton-Clark said, "That doesn't have anything to do with me, and that doesn't have anything to do with over here."
She added that she "lives in Jasper County" but owns several properties elsewhere and that it is not "anybody else's business" where those other properties are.
Her son, DeAngelo Clark, transferred to Hilton Head Island High School from Hilton Head Christian Academy before the start of the 2014-15 school year. He caught four passes for 76 yards in the Seahawks' season-opening win Friday over Ridgeland-Hardeeville -- the school he would be zoned for if living at the address his mother listed on 2010 election filings.
Seahawks football coach B.J. Payne said in a text message Tuesday afternoon that school officials planned a visit to the address Clark listed on the transfer form that the school filed with the S.C. High School League. Contacted later in the evening, Payne referred questions to Beaufort County School District student services head Gregory McCord, who declined to confirm Clark's eligibility was being revisited.
However, he said the district verifies all student information to the best of its ability and, when necessary, verifies transfers with in-home visits.
Hamilton-Clark has served on a the school board for a number of years. Her term expires after November's general election, and she has not filed for reelection, according to the Jasper County Elections and Voter Registration Office.
Elected officials who move out of the district they represent can no longer serve on that public body, Jasper County elections office director Jeanine Bostick said Tuesday.
However, Hamilton-Clark said Monday that she has made sure it is legal for her to continue serving the remainder of her four-year term on the board, although she would not say with whom she confirmed.
Hamilton-Clark has been among the Jasper County board members who have defended the district and its superintendent, Vashti Washington, in the face of public criticism and back-to-back "F" ratings on federal accountability standards.
DeAngelo Clark has not attended school in Jasper County since middle school, according to Hilton Head Christian athletics director Kenny Conroy. Clark transferred from Hardeeville Middle School after eighth grade and attended the academy for three years before transferring to Hilton Head High this school year, Conroy added.
Hamilton-Clark said her family's decision to send their son to a school outside the district she helps lead "is my personal business."
WHAT ARE THE RULES?
When Hamilton-Clark last filed to run for office in November 2010, she listed an address on Langfordville Road in Ridgeland, within District 1, according to Bostick.
A call to a phone number for Hamilton-Clark listed at that address and provided on the Jasper County School District website indicated the line has been disconnected.
Bostick said office-holders can own multiple homes, but the one they list as their primary residence determines where they are eligible to serve. However, once an elected official begins a term, the elections office would learn that the holder moved out of the district only if the official self-reports or a complaint is filed, she said.
No one has complained about Hamilton-Clark's eligibility to serve, Bostick added.
A district lawyer said Tuesday he believes Hamilton-Clark remains eligible to serve the remaining months of her term. Ken Childs of Columbia-based Childs & Halligan, which represents both the school district and the board of education, said he was contacted late Monday by Washington, the superintendent, after she learned Hamilton-Clark had been questioned about her residency following the board meeting.
"As I understand it, she, her son and husband are spending most of their time in the home they own on Hilton Head," Childs said after speaking with Hamilton-Clark on Tuesday morning. "But she is still technically a resident of Jasper County and owns a home there, from what she told me."
Hamilton-Clark said she did not file for reelection because she has decided to move, but she would not say where.
James Chisolm and Thaddeus Smith have filed for the seat, Bostick said.
"They can have the seat," Hamilton-Clark said Monday. "Why is everybody so curious?"
DEANGELO CLARK'S STATUS QUESTIONED
It is not clear if DeAngelo Clark will suit up for Hilton Head High when it plays host to Whale Branch High School on Friday.
"I can't confirm nor deny that," McCord said, adding, "we're in the process of gathering information. After all the facts and information are gathered, then we'll see where we go from there."
Nessie Harris, who is in charge of eligibility and transfers at the S.C. High School League, the sanctioning body for most of the state's high school athletics, said the league does not "approve" transfers. Rather, it accepts transfer forms from member schools if they are complete and raise no red flags.
"It's based on their word," Harris said, noting it is the school's responsibility to ensure the information is correct and face the consequences if it is not.
Harris said that as far as the High School League is concerned, a student-athlete can have only one residence. If the family owns multiple homes and claims one as its primary residence for property-tax purposes, that is considered the student-athletes official residence.
Hilton Head Island has had to deal with the question of a transfer's eligibility in the past, as well.
In August 2011, Hilton Head High senior Philip Harris was ruled ineligible because his transfer did not meet the High School League's definition of a "bona fide move." Before his senior season, Harris and his mother moved from Hardeeville into an apartment owned by then-Seahawk coach Tim Singleton. However, he was ruled ineligible to play for Hilton Head High after it was discovered his father continued to live in the family's house in Hardeeville.
Hilton Head High was fined $500 for that offense.
Harris was allowed to transfer back to Jasper County's Hardeeville High School and play his senior season there.