U.S. Markets open in 6 hrs 17 mins

LR5 board chair Hammond shuts down parent who tried to criticize subpoena

Brandi Sturdevant

A parent’s attempt to speak at Monday night’s Lexington-Richland 5 school board meeting ended with the board chair’s intervention, a question for the board’s attorney, and general grumbling from a crowd that had come to challenge a school board member.

Joann Claspill, the parent of an Irmo High School student, attempted to speak during the public participation segment of Monday’s Lexington-Richland 5 board meeting.

Claspill is one of 31 people whose Facebook pages have been subpoenaed by board Vice Chair Ken Loveless as part of defamation lawsuits he has filed against two constituents. Claspill was joined at the meeting by about a dozen other people targeted by the Facebook subpoena along with their supporters.

She was three sentences through her prepared speech when board chair Jan Hammond banged her gavel.

‘”I think you’re attacking a board member,” Hammond said.

The crowd immediately responded in protest. Claspill hadn’t named a board member.

More gavel banging.

‘I’m not talking to everyone in the audience,” Hammond said.

Hammond called on the district’s lawyer, Ward Bradley.

“To the extent that anyone wishes to talk about personal disputes they may have with any member of the board, I believe that is a political question, which is not appropriate,” Bradley said.

Board members turned to each other. The audience whispered about First Amendment rights.

“It’s not a forum for a political attack,” Hammond said.

Per board policy, while it “welcomes and encourages” public participation, it is not an opportunity to make “personal attacks” on board members, district employees or any other member of the public.

Claspill was planning to speak on the behalf of the people whose Facebook pages were subpoenaed by Loveless.

After discussion of what is and is not appropriate to comment on, Hammond allowed Claspill to speak, on the condition that she would not reference ongoing lawsuits or related issues.

Instead of her prepared comments, Claspill spoke generally about mental health struggles caused by the “extracurricular activities” of public servants.

“There is an extreme amount of mental health trauma, anxiety and issues, especially prevalent in high school students, my daughter being one of them, and especially prevalent with myself and the people I’m accompanied with today because of things that have taken place that have no bearing on education,” Claspill said. “We believe it is time for the community to just kind of stop the division and come together to ensure equitable, quality and fair representation and instruction across the whole entire district.”

Each of those targeted by the subpoenas who attended the meeting wore a shirt with a number that represented their spot on Loveless’ subpoena list, which they called an act of solidarity which each other.

Some brought signs that read “D5 Board: Free Speech Is A Right,” “Bullies Don’t Count” and “Stop the Lawsuits, Educate the Children.”

The signs were not permitted inside the meeting at the Center for Advanced Technical Studies, so they were instead hung in the hallway, to greet board members as they returned from a long closed-door, executive session.

“I can’t believe it went south so quickly,” Claspill said.

Claspill said she did not plan on mentioning names — she understood the rules. She planned to discuss how the subpoenas were meant to intimidate not only those involved, but the entire district, without mentioning any names.

“It’s an intentional effort to silence critics of a public servant,” Claspill said. “I wonder why an elected official feels the need to deny First Amendment rights of citizens.”

She called the rest of the board complicit.

Sheena Wilson, another of those subpoenaed, said she feels they are being targeted, and doesn’t understand why. The rest of those in attendance expressed confusion too.

Minutes after Claspill spoke, Kim Murphy, a former board member, praised seven board members by name for an ongoing audit of district finances, while criticizing those who “don’t want the old way of doing business to be exposed,” leading to shouts from others in the crowd of a double standard. A report released by the board last week focused primarily on construction at Piney Woods Elementary School. The report raised questions about spending on the project.

Murphy was allowed to speak, to the dismay of the crowd. Many then left the meeting.

“Y’all are just like my students in the eighth grade,” said Hammond, a teacher in Lexington District 2. “You have to get the last word.”

Among those whose Facebook pages have been subpoenaed is reporter Bristow Marchant of The State Media Co.