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A meeting of the school improvement council Monday at Beaufort High was billed as a discussion on how the school moves ahead following the resignation of its principal, but many parents said they first wanted answers about the events surrounding Dan Durbin's departure.
"We don't need to talk about moving forward," said parent Scott Dennis. "We need to go back and talk about what happened. This is a watershed moment for the school district."
"You're making a mistake," added Dennis, whose wife teaches at Beaufort Middle School and Lady's Island Middle School.
Durbin resigned last week after admitting to changing 200 grades for 33 students in the past two years.
He has said he changed the grades to motivate low-achieving students to move ahead. In many cases, he said, the students had completed extra work or passed higher level courses, proving they knew the material.
He has also said he didn't make the decisions unilaterally.
District instructional services chief Sean Alford said in a phone interview that before grades can be changed, documents must be signed by the teacher, principal and a data specialist noting the reason for the change. That documentation would be kept in the student's file. Grades can only be adjusted within the same school year, he said.
Alford said none of the changes Durbin made had the necessary documentation.
Durbin has violated policy and law, Truesdale said Monday at the school improvement council meeting. The law she referred to, S.C. code 16-13-15, says it is illegal to falsify or alter a high school transcript. A violation is considered a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine up to $1,000 or one year in prison, or both.
Durbin could potentially lose his certification, too. The matter has been sent to the state school board as required by law, Truesdale said.
Howard Bayne III, the parent of former Beaufort High students and husband of a former teacher there, asked why Durbin was not allowed to finish the year.
"I'm here to grieve, that's how I feel," he said. "I loved this man. I loved what he did for the high school. I loved what he did for the sports and for the individuals kids."
Several other parents said they felt Durbin's resignation was too severe a punishment.
Parent David Woodward said that by his calculations 200 grades was less than 1 percent of the grades given to the student body of about 1,450.
"I feel like you're giving the death sentence for a speeding ticket," Dennis said.
The school board was briefed on the situation in a lengthy closed-door meeting Feb. 21. It became clear after that meeting, Truesdale has said, that Durbin would have to leave in the middle of the school year.
Board Chairman Fred Washington said the school board did not vote on Durbin's resignation or continued employment with the district. The board only employs the superintendent and an executive assistant, he said, so a vote would not have been appropriate.
Truesdale said Durbin was given the option of resigning or being fired. She said it was her decision to not let him finish the school year.
Several parents expressed a concern that the situation at the school was still volatile and wondered what, if anything, was being done to ensure students did not overreact.
Truesdale said extra precautions, including putting additional personnel and law enforcement officers in plain clothes on campus, were being taken.
Frances Pringle Cherry, the mother of a freshman and two Beaufort High graduates, also suggested that psychologists be placed at the school to help students struggling with the news.
Truesdale said Cherry's idea was a good one.
Cherry asked if Beaufort High's "small schools," with their specific academic focuses and an accelerated studies program called Eagle Scholars, would continue under a new principal.
Truesdale said the continuation of both programs would be up to the new principal, adding that the programs were working well.
School improvement council co-chairman Carl Kilpatrick said he hopes to keep strong programs in place going forward.
"We'll continue to champion what has worked well at Beaufort High School," he said. "We'll just have to do that with a different lever in place."
A panel of teachers, district staff, parents and students will be assembled to interview candidates for the principal position.
Truesdale said the candidates would be selected based on a list of characteristics parents and teachers say they want in a new principal. From there, the panel will interview and further vet the applicants.
No specific timeline for the interviews was discussed Monday.
Follow reporter Rachel Heaton at twitter.com/HomeroomBft.