Halifax school board rolls back questionable firing of superintendent

Posted October 8, 2015 3:24 p.m. EDT
Updated October 8, 2015 6:58 p.m. EDT

— In a meeting Thursday, four of seven Halifax County School Board members met to rescind a Monday night vote to fire Superintendent Dr. Elease Frederick.

Frederick, who has led the school system since 2012, has faced constant challenges from critical board members led by Charles Hedgepeth, who claims the board did not approve Frederick's contract.

State education officials, who have been working with the district for six years to boost student achievement, have been firmly in Frederick's corner during that time.

The friction came to a head Monday evening during a closed-door meeting after two members left the room. Frederick said it was a complete surprise to her and the other board members who were not present at the meeting.

"We were just stunned, stunned," she said. "It's been out there before - for dismissal, for recommendation, for termination, for resignation, but never to this degree, and with the board not being present."

Fellow board member Claude Cooper said he was present at the meeting on Monday, but left the room, so the board would not have a quorum.

"I stood up and told them as I left, 'I've worked here 46 years, and I've never left a meeting. I'm leaving because I don't believe in what we are about to do. Nothing personal, I just don't believe in how this is being done,'" he said.

Cooper said Frederick is one of the best educators he's ever known and that the district's test scores are slowly improving with the help from state education leaders.

"I work with the school board, and I'm about the children in Halifax County Schools," Cooper said. "We don't need more turmoil from within. So things, you know, you work through it, but now it's getting to the point it's hard to continue to work through it when it gets to this level."

In August, the State Board of Education took control of the district's finances and personnel responsibilities, and ordered that no personnel changes should be made without prior state approval. State Board Chairman Bill Cobey at the time cited "irresponsible decisions" by the Halifax County board, and state Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson called the board "dysfunctional" and said it posed an obstacle to improvement.

According to Atkinson, the Halifax County board didn't seek or receive state permission to fire Frederick.

"What happened in Halifax County (Monday) did not follow that procedure, so we know that the Halifax County board will have to reconsider what it has done because it did not follow what we had asked them to do," she said.

The firing also is suspect because of questions over a quorum at Monday's meeting. A minority of the board – three of seven members – cannot take a binding vote to fire someone, officials said.