Members of the Georgetown chapter of the NAACP vowed to open their own investigation of the Georgetown County School District after meeting with representatives of the U.S. Department of Justice concerning a 1997 federal consent decree which required the district to take steps to improve facilities, and the racial balance of staff and students in the schools.

During a Nov. 29 meeting of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, members of the organization claimed the district is falling short in meeting requirements of the consent decree, and is not providing an equal education for all students in the district.

“We (NAACP) invited the DOJ to Georgetown so they could hear for themselves from parents and grandparents and students and teachers how things have not changed in the district, and how lifting the consent decree would be the wrong thing to do for our community,” Marvin Neal, president-elect of the local NAACP chapter told a group gathered at the Georgetown library for the meeting.

“The school district will tell you they invited the DOJ here, but that is not true because Morris Johnson, our out-going NAACP president invited them here and he coordinated the Nov. 15 and Nov. 17 meetings that were held at area churches,” Neal said.

GCSD Superintendent Randall Dozier told The Georgetown Times that the district had no communication with the NAACP in regards to any meetings the group scheduled with the DOJ.

“I have no idea what the DOJ arranged or didn’t arrange with the NAACP,” Dozier said. “The district was not a part of those discussions, but I can tell you that the district coordinated the visits that the DOJ made to our schools, and the meetings that were held between the district administration and the school principals while they (DOJ) were here that week.”

Neal told the Times that although the meetings the NAACP arranged with the DOJ were public in nature, the organization, he said, would not allow members of the press or school district administration to attend the meetings.

“Morris Johnson made the decision to exclude the media and members of the school district so that people would feel free to say whatever they wanted to say to the DOJ without being scared that there would be retaliation on a district level or the press would report what the people said,” Neal said.

The exclusion of district administration and press to the meetings did not sit well with GCSD Deputy Superintendent Celeste Pringle, or school board member Pat DeLeon, who both attended the Nov. 17 meeting held at Hopewell Baptist Church in the Choppee community, and both said the meetings should have been open to everyone. 

“Morris Johnson stood in the front of the church and asked me to leave so the meeting with the DOJ could proceed as planned,” Pringle told the Times. “I stood up and told him that I didn’t have anything to do with the DOJ, that I wasn’t leaving and then I sat back down.”

DeLeon said she was asked to leave the meeting by a female member of the DOJ team.

“I told them the invitation I received for the meeting from a concerned citizen included all parents, students, guardians, and citizens of the GCSD and that includes me,” she said. “I told them I had been a citizen of Georgetown for 33 years, I was a teacher in the district for 30 years, my children attended the district schools, I am a grandparent of a preschooler and I represent 8,400 constituents in District 2, have 10 schools in my district and more students than anyone else in the county and I would not be leaving.”

DeLeon said she would be hard pressed to think of another person within the county that had more right than she had to attend the meeting.

“The NAACP members were very nice to us, but we had a right to be there and we were not going to leave,” DeLeon said. “The DOJ lady told me that I would have to leave because they (DOJ) didn’t have legal representation and therefore they could not hold the meeting if Dr. Pringle and I were in attendance. … That didn’t make any sense to me, because they (DOJ) were lawyers.”

Johnson told the Times that he did not ask anyone to leave the meetings.

“I didn’t ask anyone to leave the meetings,” Johnson said. “It was the officials from the DOJ that asked the people who were not invited to the meetings to leave.”

At press time, calls placed by the Times to the DOJ had not been returned regarding the Nov. 15 and 17 meetings. Neal identified the DOJ official who presided over the meetings as Jennifer Maranzano, an attorney with the DOJ.

DeLeon said the two DOJ officials “packed up their things and left,” after she and Pringle refused to leave. The meeting, DeLeon said, continued on without the DOJ officials in attendance.

“We were not asked to leave again, and the NAACP decided to continue on with the meeting anyway,” DeLeon said. “I made a lot of notes, and I intend on sharing them with Dr. Dozier and the entire board.”

GCSD Board of Education member Sandra Johnson who represents District 3 said she attempted to attend the DOJ meeting held at Dickerson A.M.E. Church, but after she sat down, she was asked to leave the meeting by Morris Johnson.

“I walked in and sat down and then they (NAACP) spotted me,” Sandra Johnson said. “Morris Johnson came over and asked me to leave, and I decided to comply with his request so there wouldn’t be any kind of a scene. … I clearly had a right to be there, but I just thought it was best for me to leave.”

Neither the NAACP nor the DOJ notified the Times of either meeting, but Neal said the DOJ listened to concerns from attendees about issues of nepotism in regards to hiring practices, the non-recruiting of minority teachers, the number of black male suspensions, and the absence of technology in rural schools, among other issues.

“We know they (GCSD) are trying to get that consent decree lifted, and we can’t let that happen because there are still issues that the decree covers that have not been addressed,” Neal told the Times. “We (NAACP) are going to make sure the DOJ knows what is going within the district and make sure the decree is not lifted until every issue is corrected. … We have already begun our own investigation, and we will continue to gather information and share that with the DOJ.”

Sandra Johnson, who is a member of the NAACP, was not present during the Nov. 29 meeting, but she said she does not agree with the organization’s stance in regards to the district not being in compliance with the decree.

“Basically, much of what they are saying is inaccurate,” Johnson said. “I also don’t understand why they excluded people from the meeting with the DOJ. … Why wouldn’t they want the DOJ to hear from both sides and from everyone who wanted to speak?”

Dozier said he also did not agree with the NAACP excluding the press and “others” from the meetings the organization coordinated with the DOJ, and he said the district would “very much” like to see the decree lifted.

“We have been working toward coming out from under the consent decree for 10 years,” Dozier said. “We feel like we have done what needs to be done to come out and if we haven’t, we certainly want to know why, so we can correct the issues. …

“We still haven’t received any information from the DOJ since their last visit here in 2014.”

Steve Williams, a Georgetown County resident and member of the NAACP, spoke during the Nov. 29 meeting, and he said as a former educator in Georgetown County and school administrator in Greenville County, he is ready to stand up and be vocal in regards to what he described as “blatant discrimination” throughout the GCSD.

“This is not the time for us to take our foot off the pedal,” Williams said. “My late father, the Rev. Herbert Williams, advocated his entire life to get blacks to higher places, and I intend to go to bat for the community just as my dad did.”

During the Nov. 29 meeting, Neal told attendees that he is personally concerned about the hiring practices that “go on” within district.

“You’ve got the superintendent hiring his son and daughter-in-law as teachers and you’ve got Tester (Jon Tester, GCSD Director of Human Resources) hiring his family, too,” Neal said.

Both Dozier and Tester told the Times that they did not have anything to do with their family members being hired at the district. Tester said his son Ben, who has a four-year degree from the College of Charleston, was hired as a teacher at Waccamaw Middle School.

“Ben (Tester) earned his teaching position at WMS, and I am very proud that he chose to be a teacher in our district,” Jon Tester said. “He is going through a demanding certification process that takes a lot of time and commitment.”

Dozier said his son Drew, who is a 2002 Waccamaw High School graduate, holds an undergraduate degree, is working on his master’s degree and is a teacher in the GCSD. Dozier added that Eleanor Bourne, who is engaged to be married to his son Drew, is also a GCSD teacher.

“Look, my son and my future daughter-in-law love Georgetown and I love having them here,” Dozier said. “They live in downtown Georgetown, and they want to be a part of this community and that includes being teachers within the district. … They could have gone anywhere to teach and probably made more money, but they chose to come here and they followed the proper channels in becoming teachers in our district.”

Dozier said he and Jon Tester do not recommend or hire teachers. Those decisions, Dozier said, are made at the principal level.

“The teachers that are being talked about in those meetings earned their positions in the district without any influence from Jon Tester or myself,” Dozier said. “I would encourage anyone who has concerns such as this to come see me or address the situation during a public school board meeting.”

Neal said he and other members of the NAACP would continue gathering information and forwarding their findings to the DOJ.

“We are hopeful that the DOJ will not lift the decree without listening to the folks here who still have concerns,” Neal said.