Academic Magnet High School - North Charleston, South Carolina.


Academic Magnet High School - North Charleston, South Carolina.


Academic Magnet High School - North Charleston, South Carolina.


Tension in CCSD grows after privately planned meeting

Moms for Liberty continues to exert influence nationwide
The CCSD Board of Trustees Committee of the Whole and Special-Called Meeting, September 11th, 2023.

On September 11th, 2023, the Charleston County school board held a meeting regarding Superintendent Eric Gallien’s contract privately planned by a faction of five trustees.

In a press conference, school board trustees Daron Lee Calhoun II, Darlene Dunmeyer-Roberson, Courtney Waters, and Carol Tempel, the last of whom is a former principal of Academic Magnet High School, stated the meeting was planned in secret by trustees Charlotte Bailey, Keith Grybowski, Ed Kelley, Pam McKinney, and Leah Whatley, all of whom are supported by Moms for Liberty.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Moms for Liberty, which describes itself as a “parental rights” advocacy group, is a far-right organization opposing education on LGBT topics, discussion of race, and the “woke indoctrination” of children. In response to the SPLC’s categorization, Moms for Liberty co-founders Tina Descovich and Tiffany Justice stated to NPR, “We believe that parental rights do not stop at the classroom door and no amount of hate from groups like [the SPLC] is going to stop that.” Members of Moms for Liberty have openly spread hate against transgender people, advocated for book bans, and targeted harassment towards specific individuals, such as in the case of Jennifer Jenkins, who was threatened with violence after unseating Moms for Liberty co-founder Tina Descovich to become a member of the Brevard County, Florida school board and supporting affirmations for transgender students.

In March of this year, a member of the public alleged that she had witnessed Kelley at a Moms for Liberty meeting commend a parent for informing him of their child having a transgender teacher, afterward stating that if his own child had told him that they themself had a transgender teacher, he “would have shown up at the teacher’s house with a gun.” In a later statement, Kelley claimed that he had actually applauded the parent for “making the right choice to write an email instead of picking up a gun.”

Trustees Calhoun II, Dunmeyer-Roberson, Tempel, and Waters were informed of the meeting at the same time as the public as opposed to beforehand and their concern over the Moms for Liberty faction’s secrecy went unanswered. The meeting itself was held to review Superintendent Gallien’s contract, despite it already having been executed since June 21st.

During the meeting, Gallien defended himself, citing increasing SC Ready Test scores, a $5,000 raise to teachers, and a reduced vacancy rate since before his term. To the trustees who planned the meeting, he bluntly stated, “quite honestly you need to let me do my job.” After an approximately 90 minute executive session behind closed doors at the end of the meeting, ultimately no action was taken.

An apparent attempt to end historic academic achievement of black and brown Charleston County School District students …will not go unchallenged.

— Rev. Nelson B. Rivers III

The meeting has not gone without criticism. Rev. Nelson B. Rivers III, Vice President of Religious Affairs and External Relations of the civil rights organization National Action Network, accused the Moms for Liberty backed board trustees of having made “racist attacks” towards Superintendent Gallien, promising an “apparent attempt to end historic academic achievement of black and brown Charleston County School District students…will not go unchallenged.”

According to The Post and Courier, trustee Calhoun II described the meeting as being “a complete waste of the board, staff, and community’s time,” and that “the lack of transparency around the meeting and its inaction led to ‘a wide away [sic] of speculation’ that further enhanced community distrust.” Grybowski, in a statement to The Post and Courier, defended himself by stating, “I believe it’s essential for our community to understand that transparency doesn’t equate to revealing every detail of every discussion.”

The current school board consists of almost entirely new members following the November 2022 election. The election was the first in the county to have specific members solely represent one of nine districts, as opposed to all of them representing the entire county, resulting in every seat being open. Courtney Waters is the only trustee who was re-elected.

The meeting is significant because it is indicative of the increasing power of Moms for Liberty within national politics. Since its founding less than three years ago, Moms for Liberty has amassed over 115,000 members and has worked with leading Republican figures such as Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis as well as many conservative groups such as Turning Point USA. Additionally, many of its prominent members have ties to the white supremacist group, the Proud Boys, as well as the far-right conspiracy theory movement QAnon.

According to their own website, Moms for Liberty endorsed 500 school board candidates in 2022, 275 of which won a seat. In addition to the Charleston County school board, the organization additionally holds a majority in Berkeley County and York County school boards. The organization boasts about being part of “parental rights supportive” majority school boards all over the country.

An example of Moms for Liberty gaining and utilizing a majority in a school board is the case of the Pennridge School Board in Pennsylvania. The board made many decisions directly influenced by Moms for Liberty, such as banning books like Beloved and A Queer History of the United States for Young People, banning displays of LGBT symbols, and forbidding transgender-affirming school policies.

Affiliation with Moms for Liberty does not technically equate to affiliation with a political party, which circumvents the nearly statewide prohibition of school board candidates or members affiliating with a political party. However, even this notion has been challenged in South Carolina. In 2022, the state House of Representatives in a 49-47 decision voted only slimly against a bill that would allow school board candidates in Lancaster County to run as a member of a political party. Support for the bill included that of Republican Whip Brandon Newton, who stated, “I have a general belief any body that sets policy and spends taxpayer money that is elected should be elected in a partisan fashion.”

Despite 41 states banning party affiliation of school board candidates and members, Moms for Liberty’s power marks a trend of increased political partisanship within American education. According to an NBC News account of Brown University professor Jonathan Collins, he “fears one outcome of the increased politicization of school boards will be entrenched polarization, leading to inaction on new hires and student achievement goals because no one will work across ideological lines.”

The secretive organization of the Charleston County school board meeting was unprecedented in the school board and has sparked tension that has remained since. The next Board of Trustees meeting is scheduled to take place September 25th.

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