Tuesday night's meeting of the Aiken County School Board at Silver Bluff High School included a heated and emotional public participation session.
The speakers, in general, praised Dr. Sean Alford and criticized the six school board members who voted to accept this resignation last week.
Their comments received applause and cheers from the audience, which filled Silver Bluff’s auditorium.
Eugene White, president of the Aiken County Branch of the NAACP described Alford as a man who “embodied” the “three hallmarks of a next-level superintendent.”
They were, White said, “A deep commitment to putting student success first, visionary leadership and fiscal responsibility.”
Then, White chastised the school board, saying: “Hate is wrong and must be defeated. Especially when you hate the children of Aiken County. So how do you hate those children? You hate those children when you are elected to positions to serve and vote, and yet you act with deliberate intent to block the guarantee and opportunity of success for each and every student.”
White also accused the school board of teaching “our children how not to cooperate, how not to collaborate, how not to communicate, how not to work together, how to impart the racist will of a minority onto the whole.”
White also described the situation involving Alford as a “debacle.”
Donna Moore Wesby, a former school board member, as did many others, said, “We deserve answers, we deserve facts” concerning the circumstances involved in Alford’s resignation."
Debbi Nix, chair of We the People Aiken Committee, called for an investigation by SLED and the S.C. Attorney General.
Sarah Young, who described herself as an “ordinary parent, who has a first grader at Aiken Elementary School,” expressed bewilderment.
“I sent my child off for the school year excited about it and then three weeks into the school year, we get this major change in leadership,” she said. “And I, as a parent, from what I’ve heard, is that by all objective measures, the superintendent was doing a good job.
“I don’t really understand why this happened,” Young continued. “But I don’t think you can make a decision of this gravity and then just expect everybody to go back to business and move on.
“I think you have some explaining to do,” she said, mentioning the resignations of school board members Tad Barber and Ahmed Samaha last week and the resignation of another member, Rosemary English, that is effective Friday.
Former Aiken County School Board members Tad Barber and Ahmed Samaha released their letters of resignation to the Aiken Standard on Friday.
“I think you didn’t like him, and I get it, ” Aiken resident Betty Ryberg told the six members of the school board who voted to accept Alford’s resignation.
She mentioned adjectives she had heard used to describe Alford, such as arrogant and condescending, and said, “That’s what I used to think.”
Then Ryberg, added, “But I had the greatest respect for him when I saw what he did.”
Alford was a person, she concluded, “that got the job done.”
Moses Mims, another speaker, discussed a conversation he had with Alford recently.
“When I heard about the situation with Dr. Alford last week, I was flabbergasted,” Mims said. “I could not believe, you guys, what you did. I called Dr. Alford because I consider him a friend to try and find out what was going on
“I asked him, I said, 'Dr. Alford, please, let's fight this if we can.’ I was trying to get him to fight you guys. But he told me that he was so tired of having to deal with you guys, that he was not going to fight anymore.
“His fate was sealed in November 2018 when you five guys decided that you were going to do all you could to get rid of Dr. Alford. I believe that it was an organized, orchestrated conspiracy.”
Others who spoke included S.C. Rep. Bill Clyburn, D-Aiken, former Aiken County Council member Scott Singer, Ellen Priest, a former consultant to the Aiken County Public School District, and Paul Bush, chairman of the Greater Aiken Chamber of Commerce and the president of the Concerned Ministers Fellowship.
The school board was still meeting in executive session as of press time.
Larry Wood contributed to this article.