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Thomas holds onto District 55 Superintendent’s position after raucous board meeting

A concern that Superintendent Dr. Ameca Thomas would be terminated at Monday night’s meeting of the District 55 School Board brought more than 200 concerned citizens to the district office.

STRESS TEST – Immediately following an almost three hour executive session, Laurens District 55 Superintendent Ameca Thomas, left, and District 55 Board of Trustees Chair Cathy Little sit in silence awaiting a space of quiet from the raucous crowd of Thomas’ supporters protesting her  possible termination. Photo by Judith Brown

By the end of the meeting, which included a three-hour executive session, all the other spring contract employees were approved, but the board opted not to take up a discussion of Thomas’ contract after all.

In June of 2022, the District 55 School Board gave Thomas “proficient” and “very excellent” reviews, offered a 3 % raise and extended her contract through June of 2026.

The meeting started off with Thomas’ supporters voicing their frustration when Board Chair Cathy Little suggested a motion to delay the agenda item on employment contract negotiations until a later date.

Only Little and board members Mike Hughes and Bubba Rawl voted for the move, so it failed to pass.

The school board dealt with other agenda items before entering into what became a three-hour executive session to review the contract employees and receive legal counsel concerning Thomas’ contract.

Following executive session, Little had to wait to reconvene the meeting until shouting by some in the audience for her resignation had ended.

“I respectively ask that you listen and allow us to make the motions. The first statement that I would like to make is that, yes, we did have legal counsel in tonight, as did Dr. Thomas, to discuss her contract, and at this time there’s going to be no board action taken on that contract. So everything stays as is,” Little said, followed by cheers from Thomas’ supporters.

Board member Anthony Carpenter responded that he didn’t think the effort to remove Thomas was over, however, describing Little as “a snake in the grass,” eliciting an expression of shock from Little and taunts from some.

The board then presented two lists for a vote to approve the administrative employment contract recommendations for school year 2022-23, and both passed in a split vote, 5-2, with Little, Rawl, Hughes, Todd Varner and Neil Patterson voting for approval and Anthony and Peggy Nance, against.

Earlier in the meeting, some of Thomas’ supporters also voiced displeasure with a change in the public comment policy, which would require a form to be filled out a full week before a meeting by anyone who wished to address the school board.

Trustees voted unanimously to pass the measure on first reading, and voted to waive the second reading before it would be put into effect.

The public had been barred from official time to speak at Monday’s meeting.

Not all the suggestions brought by the trustees were met with protests, however, as Patterson’s recommendation that the board meetings go back on the road to the district’s nine schools was met with vocal approval by many in attendance.

“I’d like to look at possibly moving the meetings back into the schools for several reasons,” Patterson said. “Obviously, we can see here that we are completely overrun in this space, and the schools are the number one space for the community to be involved.”

Patterson explained that board meetings had previously rotated through all the schools during the year, offering administration a chance to honor achievements and the community easier access to elected trustees.

Little said the idea would need to pass before the district’s IT department in case some schools lack the capability to broadcast the meetings, but if the board was in agreement, they could make that move next month.

Several board members gave reports about recent conferences, and Little offered the floor to Nance, the newest board member.

“The conference was for new board orientation. I learned a lot, about what we should expect and do as a board, to support and to trust your superintendent,” Nance said with emotion, bringing cheers from the audience which forced Nance to pause in her comments.

Taking care of the district’s children, and connecting with the community is also important, Nance said.

“That’s what I learned – as a board member, that you trust your superintendent. I know we hire and fire superintendents. I know that’s what boards do. We do policies and we focus on our children, and, as they said, we let the superintendent run her job.”

On Tuesday Thomas released the following statement:“In Laurens County School District 55, we remain committed to ensuring that we provide quality educational opportunities for our students each day.  Our teachers and staff are among the best anywhere and our focus is on every child, every chance, every day.”

Thomas explained that Friday evening she had been alerted to the subject of the meeting’s executive session by the attorney for District 55.

Large crowd gets loud as District 55 board convenes

During Monday’s meeting, angry claims of racial bias and vocal demands for justice were among the calls from some of the estimated 225 people attending Monday night’s meeting of the Laurens County School District 55 Board of Trustees after rumors had circulated through the community that the board was considering terminating the contract of Superintendent Dr. Ameca Thomas.

Prior to the meeting at the district office, chairs had been arranged to fill most of the district office’s training room and the lobby, and both areas were standing-room only during most of the five-hour meeting.

During open session, board members and district staff were interrupted and several times throughout the evening Board Chair Cathy Little used her gavel in an attempt to quiet the crowd. On several occasions Laurens Police Capt. Heath Copeland had to ask and sometimes lead protesters back to their seats.

After the board left the training room to go into an executive session that stretched into three hours, an unattended microphone gave Thomas’ supporters an opportunity to vent frustrations about the potential outcome of the meeting, while others used the mic to sing, lead chants or ask attendees to continue attending the monthly meetings.

Conversations centered on the concern for Thomas’ future with the school district, and ranged from angry to those with a calmer approach.

“We want to thank all those who have helped and thank you for your leadership,” said Rev. Catherine Evans of Enoree. “Because of situations like this, we may not always agree on the process, but we all have to work together to accomplish a common goal.”

As the school board filed back into the training room, some attendees chanted for Little’s resignation from the board, while others remained quiet throughout the final minutes of the meeting.

1 Comment

  1. Mrs. Joyce Dorrah on March 10, 2023 at 1:59 pm

    Will District Staff have privy to the allegations for the removal of Dr. Thomas? There are plenty of rumors circulation, I think we are at least owed an explanation.

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