UNION — A woman held a press conference outside last night’s school board meeting — accusing the district of Title IX violations — after being told she could speak in executive session, but not publicly.
Two weeks ago, Jessica Sherbert was on the agenda to speak at a meeting of the Union County Board of School Trustees regarding what she called inconsistent district policies. It was suggested that Sherbert speak during executive session in case she needed to name names or mention job titles.
Members of the news media objected, stating that the subject of Sherbert’s speech — district policies — is not one which allowed for executive session by law.
Board members said they were advised to discuss matters in executive session that would involve naming specific employees or their job titles. In the S.C. Freedom of Information Act, Section 30-4-70, the first purpose listed for Executive Session is “discussion of employment matters related to an employee.”
Sherbert said she would prefer her comments to be public rather than private. Board members then decided with a vote of 6-2 to table the public comments until legal representation could be present.
During last night’s school board meeting, Sherbert was asked again to speak to the board during executive session. Sherbert said she wanted to speak in public, but board chair B.J. McMorris told her she could speak to the board during executive session. Sherbert declined, and informed board members that while they met in executive session, she would hold a press conference in the hallway, discussing her issues of concern.
Sherbert did just that, presenting a letter to all media representatives that stated: “The issue here is the inconsistency in applying discipline and use of policy from the athletic department.”
Sherbert’s letter accuses the school district of a Title IX violation in that “an all-girl athletic group has much harsher rules and consequences than that of its male counterparts.” Sherbert also states that such discrimination falls under the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment of the Constitution.
Sherbert states that her niece was dismissed from the cheerleading squad based on a 15-minute conversation between her coach, the Interim Athletic Director Will Hickson and Principal Floyd Lyles. She states that Lyles and Hickson never discussed details of her niece’s situation.
“I pointed out that I knew other athletes had not been dismissed from their teams when arrested by legal authorities,” Sherbert wrote. “The interim athletic director adamantly denied any knowledge of this.”
Sherbert writes of a conversation with the cheerleading coach.
“The cheerleading coach stated that she could not allow my niece back on the squad because another cheerleader had been dismissed earlier in the year and she did not want to have to deal with that cheerleader’s mother,” Sherbert wrote. “Then she explained that if my niece had been in the car with a group and they were pulled over and someone had marijuana, which resulted in everyone being arrested, that this would be a different case. Earlier, I stated that the interim athletic director said he had no knowledge of any athlete participating currently that had been arrested, but I find it ironic that this story the cheerleading coach shared was the same as an incident with football players earlier in the season.”
Sherbert also wrote of an incident involving indecent exposure at Union County High School, and she said it was observed by a teacher.
“From what I understand, that student was put up for expulsion and a hearing was held; the school did not report the illegal action to the police; the teacher’s statement was not presented in the expulsion hearing, but the coach was allowed to speak on the player’s behalf,” she wrote. “He was not dismissed.”
“When incidents in the district involve certain male athletes, it appears we dismiss their actions,” Sherbert wrote. “When a student with no discipline background makes one mistake, then she is dismissed without due process.”
Sherbert went on to discuss a meeting with Hickson, during which he stated — according to Sherbert — that school policy says anyone who is dismissed or quits a sport cannot participate in the next sport until the previous one has ended. This prevented Sherbert’s niece from participating in soccer workouts until football cheerleading season ended. Sherbert said Hickson said there were four basketball players, three wrestlers and one cheerleader who could not participate due to that rule.
“The athletic director, who is also the head basketball coach, chose to not enforce the rule on his four basketball players,” Sherbert wrote. “He went as far as to text my husband, who was also a basketball coach at the time, and asked him not to come to practices on several occasions after the meeting. He has allowed the boys to participate in practices, scrimmages and one game; even though he said he was enforcing this rule with everyone.”
Sherbert also brought up an issue involving cheerleading tryouts for basketball games.
“Two of the judges were male basketball coaches, with no cheerleading background,” she wrote. “Two of the judges left during tryouts and were replaced with another judge. Is this consistent with how we would normally insure parents, students and the community of fair and consistent selection of cheerleaders, or are the girls’ sports not that important? In this case, having an athletic squad evaluated by unqualified personnel would be inappropriate and an infraction of Title IX.”
Sherbert wrote that she would like to see changes made in creating a more equal athletic opportunity for female athletes in the district.
Attached to Sherbert’s letter were definitions and amendments of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, as well as a request for documentation per the Freedom of Information Act.
Union County School District Superintendent Kristi Woodall said — immediately following last night’s meeting — that the district could not comment on Sherbert’s letter, as no one in the district had a copy of the letter or was aware of the particular concerns expressed in it.
Staff Writer Derik Vanderford can be reached at 864-427-1234, ext. 29, or by email at email@example.com.