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Moms for Liberty-backed school board members fire superintendent, ban critical race theory

The Berkeley County, South Carolina, school board made several big moves in its first meeting after the election. The board’s former chair said it was a “political witch hunt.”
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On Tuesday evening, the Berkeley County School District in South Carolina swore in the board members who were elected last week, six of whom were endorsed by the conservative activist group Moms for Liberty.

Within two hours, the school board had voted to fire the district’s first Black superintendent, terminate the district’s lawyer, ban critical race theory and set up a committee to decide whether certain books and materials should be banned from schools. 

In addition, the board voted to replace the chair with Mac McQuillin, a local attorney and one of the board members backed by Moms for Liberty.

The rapid moves Tuesday in the Berkeley County district, the fourth largest in the state, showed the impact of Moms for Liberty’s focus on electing conservative school board members, and prompted uproar among some community members in attendance. 

Deon Jackson during the special meeting of the Berkeley County School District board on May 19, 2021 in South Carolina.
Deon Jackson was voted in as district superintendent at a special meeting of the Berkeley County School District board in South Carolina on May 19, 2021.Berkeley County School District

Moms for Liberty said it has endorsed more than 500 school board candidates across the country this year, 49% of whom have won. The organization’s candidates were highly successful in Florida, but they had mixed results in Arkansas, California, Michigan and other states.

Moms for Liberty celebrated the six candidates’ wins in Berkeley County as an example of flipping a school board in favor of people who “value parental rights.” Four of the candidates, including McQuillin, were incumbents, while the two others were new to the board; they promised more curriculum transparency and fiscal responsibility and to put a stop to the “woke agenda.”

Moms for Liberty celebrated the board’s first votes on Facebook, posting Wednesday, “6 new board members clean house first night on the job.”

Early in the meeting, according to video posted by the district, the board moved into executive session. Shortly after it returned, Kathy Littleton, one of the Moms for Liberty-backed members, moved to terminate Tiffany Richardson, the district’s in-house counsel, and retain Brandon Gaskins, a lawyer who was deputy chief legal counsel for former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford.

Moments later, McQuillin moved to terminate Deon Jackson, who was appointed superintendent last year, and replace him with Anthony Dixon, who had worked in the district as an administrator. Dixon will be the district’s second Black superintendent, after Jackson.

Audience members gasped at the firing of Jackson and Richardson and shouted in disagreement. 

“All right, listen up,” McQuillin chastised the audience. “We’re going to be respectful in this meeting. You may not agree with our votes, but I ask that you please be respectful and calm. What kind of example are you setting for our kids, disrupting a meeting like this?”

Berkeley County School District Board member Mac McQuillin.
Berkeley County School Board member Mac McQuillin at an event on Oct. 25.Berkeley County School District

None of the board members responded to emails or phone calls seeking comment Wednesday. Jackson and Richardson also did not respond to requests for comment. 

David Barrow, who had been school board chair until Tuesday’s meeting, asked McQuillin to explain for the terminations. 

“I’m not going to discuss personnel matters,” McQuillin said. He added later that Gaskins, the newly hired counsel, who was not present, would share more information about Jackson’s firing another time.

Barrow called the firings a “travesty” and a “political witch hunt.” 

Yvonne Bradley, who was one of the three board members to vote against the firings, said: “Ladies and gentlemen, you are being fooled by these six. Unbelievable — what the chairman would do. It is so unbelievable how this is going.” 

She added, looking at the audience, “And we voted for these people, you did. You took the time.”

Bradley and Crystal Wigfall, another board member, then walked out of the meeting, and it appeared in the video that some members of the audience followed them. 

Dr. Tiffany Richardson, In-House General Counsel for Berkeley County School District in South Carolina.
Tiffany Richardson, former in-house general counsel for the Berkeley County School District.Berkeley County School District

Before the board took the votes, several speakers argued in a public comment session against the resolutions banning critical race theory and setting up a committee to evaluate books and other materials. 

Two teachers said the district did not teach critical race theory, a pastor argued that critical race theory could help teach students about local history, an NAACP representative said addressing structural racism should be the board’s priority, and a district librarian said an additional committee was redundant because there were already policies dictating how to buy books for libraries. The librarian also noted that there is already a process for parents to challenge specific titles they don’t want their children to read.

“These vaguely worded bans have had an impact on the teaching of the Holocaust and its important lessons,” Brandon Fish, the community relations director at the nonprofit Charleston Jewish Federation, said at the meeting. “Learning about the Holocaust and other dark chapters in our history, including slavery and Jim Crow, are crucial to making sure that these mistakes are never repeated.”

Later in the meeting, the board moved to ban teaching critical race theory “in any form.” 

Barrow asked for a definition of critical race theory, which is the study of racism’s effect on societal structures and is usually taught at the graduate level but has become shorthand to describe progressive ideas about race and gender. McQuillin read a different definition that matched language used by the Goldwater Institute, a conservative think tank, saying forms of it that aren’t appropriate for children are being taught in the district’s schools. 

Each vote — firing the superintendent, picking his replacement, terminating the district’s lawyer and banning critical race theory — passed with support from only the six Moms for Liberty-backed members.

At the end of the meeting, the board voted 8-0 to set up a committee to evaluate guidelines on removing “inappropriate sexual/pornographic content” from schools after specifying that the committee include teachers, mental health professionals and librarians.