Decorum is good. Decorum belongs in public meetings, such as city and county council meetings, and school board meetings. Sometimes it is difficult to maintain decorum, especially when a sizable group of residents is angry and in search of answers from the people who represent them, who work for them, and are accountable to them.
Such was the case Monday night when the McCormick County School District board of trustees met. During the section of the meeting set aside for the public to address the board, frustration and anger quickly surfaced. On both sides. Parents who support Toye Willis, who was demoted as elementary school principal to a teaching position, again made known their displeasure with the decision. Others sought answers about an employee’s status, questioning why a man who was charged with disturbing schools and who used personal equipment to record an employee’s activities is on paid administrative leave. Some questioned the loss of $350,000 in Individuals with Disabilities Education Act funds because the district was late in filing the appropriate paperwork. Yet others questioned whether Superintendent Don Doggett was fulfilling his contract, which requires him to have moved within the district by Sept. 1 of last year.
The public was angry and in search of answers to its questions. School board members were also visibly angered by what they thought were unwarranted attacks. As board member Al Bell pointed out, the board tries to avoid having personal attacks and derogatory statements lobbed from the audience. Indeed, meetings tend to spiral out of control when decorum exits the room, but most of the audience’s questions and statements were not personal attacks. Yes, the public questioned the board and superintendent’s performance. And how can it be construed as a personal attack when someone asks the superintendent where he lives in an effort to ascertain whether he is abiding by the terms of his employment contract?
Perhaps some in the audience got more than a little carried away. Perhaps some could even be labeled as a bit rude. And perhaps the school board and superintendent should set aside time for a bit of introspection and ask the question: Did the meeting get a bit out of hand, did it escalate into an us-versus-them affair rather than developing into a productive and informative meeting because of how the board members interact with the very people who put them in their jobs of service to McCormick County children, parents and district employees?
Both sides likely could handle themselves a bit better in public meetings, but the onus to properly address concerns rests with the board and superintendent.