MARLBORO COUNTY, S.C. (WBTW) — The Marlboro County School District said no one has been terminated after students walked out of class Tuesday in response to administrators being told they won’t be offered the choice to renew their contracts.
Principal Jamane Watson told News13 he was told on Friday that the district was “looking to go in a different direction.” The district did not specifically address those allegations in written statements from Interim Superintendent Donald Andrews and Board Chair Jackie Branch, saying that the board has not terminated anyone.
Watson asked why his job was posted if no one has been terminated, as the district claims. News13 was able to verify that the high school principal job was posted by the district on Monday. As of 1 p.m. Tuesday, the job was still posted.
“To be clear, the administration did not terminate any Marlboro High School administrators,” Andrews said in a statement. “Any information contrary to that fact is not accurate and not supported by the administration.”
“We want the public to know that terminations of certified staff, including administrators, must be upheld by the Board in accordance with state law,” Branch said in a statement. “Rest assured that the Board has not voted on any administrator terminations at this time and would only do so if presented such an option by the Interim Superintendent as he carries out the daily operations.”
Students walk out of class
Hundreds of students walked out of the classrooms in protest Tuesday afternoon, with signs expressing their love and appreciation for Watson and several administrators. Students said the administration listens and encourages students to strive for the better. So when they received the news that the administrators’ contracts wouldn’t be renewed, they decided to protest.
“They really listen,” said Kayleigh Otom, a junior at Marlboro County High School. “The other ones, they didn’t listen like that, but they pay attention and they understand us. If we need help, we can feel comfortable to go talk to them.”
Otom said she and other students are frustrated because the school has seen multiple leadership changes. The students outside chanted “Keep our admin.”
Watson said he supports the students exercising their First Amendment rights.
“I think your voices are being heard,” he said. “I greatly appreciate that, your love and support. And yes, you are missing instruction time but it is for a cause. Your voice is probably the most powerful voice inside the school. A lot of times we say we are here for the kids but are we really here for the kids? We say that this is an adult issue and an adult matter but the decisions that adults make directly affect you as young men and you as young women.”
Natasha Carr, the parent of a senior at the school, said she hopes the administration stays the way it is.
“These kids really look up to the administration that they have now,” Carr said. “It’s been times. You haven’t heard or seen any kids stand up for the administration like they’ve done. So evidently something is being done right by the administration.”
Reason for the change
Watson was hired as the principal in the summer of 2020. At that time, former Superintendent Gregory McCord said, “Finding someone to lead the high school who knows this community was important to me and our staff. Having grown up here, Dr. Watson is committed to ensuring that students receive the best education possible.”
Watson was not offered the opportunity to teach and said he was not expecting the termination. He said it “caught me off guard,” and “we were heading in the right direction. I was blindsided.”
Watson also said his administrative team, two assistant principals and a career and technical education director were similarly called into a meeting Monday, and were told they also would not be offered renewed contracts at the end of the school year.
They were told the reason was the new principal should be able to pick out his or her own administrative team.
The current administrative team will be allowed to reapply for their current positions, and will be offered teaching contracts, according to Watson.
Watson said he was unhappy with the way things have played out but that he isn’t selfish. He said, “I just want what’s in the best interest of the kids and the community.”
Several school board members contacted by News13 said they would not comment on the situation.
Board member Michael Coachman told News13 by phone that the board has not met with the superintendent.
“As far as the high school, as the superintendent, he has the authority to do what he feels that is best, but he will confer with the board and give us information on any changes that’s going to be made,” Coachman said. “At this point, we haven’t had our meeting yet.”
Previous controversy in the Marlboro County School District
The Marlboro County School district has seen controversy in the past, when recently former Superintendent Gregory McCord resigned after he allowed his fraternity to operate on school property.
McCord admitted that he allowed the Omega Psi Phi fraternity, of which he is a member, to operate on the property of Bennettsville Intermediate School without first speaking to the Marlboro County Board of Education.
The district was paying the utilities for this building that sat behind the actual school building.
A Marlboro County School District board member asked the now-former district superintendent to retract his statement that, according to internal emails, wrongly said he had not violated a board policy for allowing his fraternity to operate a building on district property without conferring with the board.