Critics call for removal of R2 board members and super

COLUMBIA – A cacophony of voices can be heard on the recording, the participants becoming more and more shrill as they compete for volume. Bystanders echo and boo.

It sounds like it could be a hallway fight among a group of middle or high school students, but it isn’t. The participants are all grown adults – and they are members of the school board at Richland School District Two.

The recording is from a closed-door board meeting. 

The April 28 meeting was called to discuss safety and security in Richland Two schools – an issue that’s received attention after several gun incidents and assorted reports of students holding fights at school and circulating videos online.

The audio recording of the school board members’ confrontation – a four-minute clip provided to media – begins with School Board Chair Teresa Holmes quietly laughing while board member Lashonda McFadden is speaking – part of a pattern of bullying that’s been observable for months during the board’s public meetings.

McFadden is talking calmly about an unknown issue when the drama begins.

“You can laugh if you want to,” McFadden says.

“I am, but go ahead,” Holmes says, “Go ahead. Finish your statement. Don’t worry about me.”

“I’m not worried about you,” McFadden says her voice beginning to shake.

“Finish your statement, honey,” Holmes says, “Do what you gotta do.”

“Shut the f*** up,” McFadden replies, becoming emotional.

“Come on, that language is not necessary,” says Vice Chair James Manning, his voice clear and louder than others, as if it might be closer to the recording device, as others express their disapproval.

“Little girl, little girl, little girl,” Holmes repeatedly taunts McFadden.

“I’m fed up with you,” McFadden says. “You want to call me a little girl? I found out what ‘little girl’ means. I found out what it means.”

“It’s ok. It’s ok. Are you upset?” Holmes continues. “Are you upset, Lashonda?”

“No, I’m not upset. I’m just letting you know right now that I will f*** you up….”

The other board members erupt in a chorus of disapproval, and from that point on, it’s hard to hear much of what is said.

“You have threatened me!” Holmes exclaims multiple times.

“That’s jail!” school board member Cheryl Caution-Parker says excitedly.

“I’m tired of this bull***it,” McFadden says.

“You threatened me!” Holmes shouts.

“Go file a complaint like you normally do,” McFadden says amidst the chaos of voices.

“And what you gonna do, boo?” Holmes continues. “So, what you gonna do? Do it! Do it!”

Then McFadden says, “I want to let you know that if you think you’re going to continue to disrespect me, then I will catch your mother-f****** ass outside.”

Holmes says, “Now that’s the second threat. Thank you for saying that in front of everybody. Thank you.”

“It’s a matter of record now,” Caution-Parker says.

“What I saw was your lack of professionalism, madam chair,” says board member Lindsay Agostini. “Laughing at one of your board members starting to speak. That’s what instigated this.”

“You don’t know what I was laughing at,” Holmes says, “Are you in my head ma’am? I might’ve been thinking of something else.”

Holmes continues to taunt and laugh at McFadden, And then the recording ends.

This four minutes of audio has elicited a firestorm of commentary, online and among students and families across the school district.

Asked about the exchange, multiple school board members have said that this level of conflict is not unusual in their closed-door meetings. The tension and hostility among board members has, with increasing frequency, occurred public meetings as well.

The board is generally split on issues with Holmes, Caution-Parker, Manning and Amelia McKie on one side and Agostini, McFadden and Monica Scott on the other.

Holmes, the board chair, declined to comment on the incident.

She did, however, address it in an e-mail to Agostini, who requested to view the video referenced in Holmes’ police report about the incident.

“It’s important for the entire board to have access to the video and to know who breached the confidence of the Executive Session,” Agostini wrote in an e-mail to Holmes.

“This is now a legal matter,” Holmes wrote in her reply, declaring the video off-limits, comparing herself to a rape victim, calling Agostini names and trying to place blame on Agostini.

“It is quite clear… you are negative,[sic] and determined to remain in high conflict despite truth or morality. In full disclosure, I find your deceitful and continuing hostility toward me sad,” Holmes wrote.

“Your goal of intentionally working against certain members of the board, the administration and continuous [sic] conspiring with outside sources to attempt to create an atmosphere of confusion in order to, [sic] sway the election in November is appalling.”

Also in the email, Holmes vowed to expose malicious intent and hypocritical behavior “no matter the cost” – and to “no longer be silent about exposing antics.”

McFadden, for her part, issued a written apology Monday for her role in the ruckus, asking for forgiveness as she apologized to Holmes, district parents and students, her family and church family, and fellow Christians.

“As an elected leader over your children, it is my deepest regret that I allowed my emotions to alter my character and behavior to use such horrific and vulgar language,” said McFadden, who is also a parent.

“For those who have called, texted, dropped by, sent well wishes, and prayer to me during this most trying time… THANK YOU! I have felt the encouragement pulling me through the depths of guilt and shame.”

Agostini said she believes both participants in the exchange and the person who made the recording – a violation of board policy – should all be removed from the board as consequences for their actions.

Board member Monica Scott said that because of the breach of trust caused by the recording of executive session meeting, she will no longer be attending those meetings.

Manning, who insisted to The Voice that there is no video, only a recording, refused to comment on whether or not he had made the recording, called for McFadden’s resignation.

“We have students who get expelled for threatening,” Manning said. “I don’t know how she can continue to properly serve when she’s making decisions over students who have exhibited similar behavior.”

Manning was among those who defended Superintendent Baron Davis and his wife, Pamela (a high school teacher), when, several weeks ago, they reportedly became unruly toward members of the public at the start of a school board meeting and law enforcement became involved. Pamela Davis reportedly used vulgur language toward a student in the audience during the incident.

I never would’ve thought that we would be in this type of position in Richland Two. We have always been seen as a leader in education in the state, and to see where we are now is unfortunate.

Stephen Gilchrist, Member of the Richland Two Black Parents’ Association

Also, in that incident, two people attending the meeting – both of whom some witnesses say were not unruly – were banned from school district property.

Both of those who were banned say they intend to sue – one (Gary Ginn) for violation of his constitutional rights under the first and fourteenth amendments, and the other (Gus Philpott) for issues such as “defamation, libel and due process.”

Ginn, a parent, described the window the recording gives the public into how the board operates.

“I think that we should just remove the whole school board,” Ginn says. “I think the governor should just wipe the slate clean and remove the whole school board and basically release Dr. Davis and Pamela Davis from their positions at the school district, and that would solve all the problems. Then we as parents wouldn’t have to deal with it anymore.”

Stephen Gilchrist, a founding member of the Richland Two Black Parents’ Association and member of the Richland County Planning Commission, said he applauds the recent approval of a state law that added school board members to the list of public officials that can be removed by the governor for misconduct.

“Obviously in Richland School District Two there’s been a lot of public displaying of a lot of issues that the law has been designed to address,” Gilchrist says. “So, unfortunately, we have become the poster child for Senate Bill 203, and we will just see what happens as folks begin to revisit some of the issues that this board has been having over the last several months and years.”

He says parents and others have begun calling the governor’s office asking for help, but that’s not enough. Gilchrist says local leaders – from the Richland County Council, which holds purse strings for the school system, to local business and community leaders – should oppose the school board’s continued dysfunction.

“I never would’ve ever thought that we would be in this type of a position in Richland School District Two,” he says. “We have always been seen as a leader in education in the state, and to see where we are now is unfortunate.”

The board routinely expels or otherwise disciplines students for behavior, he says – but in many ways the board members conduct themselves even worse than the kids. He says suspension and removal should be options for them, too.

“I don’t think that we can continue to fund dysfunction at the level that we’ve been doing that and raising taxes on people to fund dysfunction,” he says.

“It’s my hope that with so much concern about what’s happening at our school district, we will come together as a community to try and bring either some new faces to the leadership of the school district or have the state really weigh in on what’s been going on here.”

Comments

  1. Excellent article, with information about what really cuased the blow-up. Those familiar with this yaer’s board meetings will recognize Teresa Holmes’ participation. A common rule is you can’t pick a fight and then cry “Victim”.

    • Terrence Cummings says

      This is media cant and propaganda. A journalistic balanced article would have commentary with observations from both sides. The Voice has become voiceless on balance.

  2. At the 5/24/2022 board meeting, the fifth speaker in Public Participation gave an excellent analysis of the April 28 incident during the executive session. Go to livestream.com/richland2 and start at 1:25:00. That speaker nailed it!

    • Terrence Cummings says

      It’s rather clear that this is about personality and not about real issues. The alleged Board dysfunction is resistance to a democratic society where we see over the nation rebellion against majority rule.
      Obviously, the same person who has a blog about R2 has galvanized animus toward members of the board that has nothing to do with the successes of the District and the excellence it accomplishes daily. For example, The Voice is not focusing on student successes but a few loud, disgruntled parents or a citizen, one in this post that has no children or grandchildren in it.

      What about this article: “Student’s vision on long-term investing WOWs judges in 2021 investwrite.competition. Why not celebrate and focus on how well our children are doing with articles celebrating them, especially given the murders at Robb Elementary in Uvalde. This is the time to celebrate students. Yet, one is to believe this is the worst District in the entire nation

      • Calvin Kennedy says

        No one has ignored the students or the teachers as well as the schools and their achievements! It is totally about a dysfunctional school board that is operating with a majority of unsound thinking people that have created a hostile environment within! As for the democratic society goes, if you have twenty dummies voting against nineteen sound thinkers, how is that good for that society??? When it comes to whoever you may be speaking of with no children or grandchildren in the system, if they pay even just one (1) penny in taxes that support a public entity, they are entitled to a voice! As to the good news vs the bad news comment, if it weren’t for both, how on earth would anyone know what the Robb Elementary in Uvalde was about? Good News is ALL NEWS & not just a propaganda report!!!

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