KINGSTREE, S.C. -- A former coach, Andre Weathers, is suing the Williamsburg County School District, former Superintendent Carrie Brock and several other district employees, saying he was fired because he was a whistleblower.
Weathers’ suit accuses the district and employees of allowing students to pass despite failing grades, of altering attendance and discipline records and of allowing sexual harassment to go unpunished. At one point, the suit says, a school district employee set up a fake account on social media to damage Weathers’ reputation.
Attempts this week to contact the defendants named in Weather’s suit were unsuccessful. This is the latest development in what has been a tumultuous month for Williamsburg County School District. It has been taken over by the South Carolina Department of Education, and the state has replaced Brock with Rose Wilder. Before that, in late March, a lawsuit was filed against WCSD on behalf of D.P. Cooper Charter School by Thomas P. Gressette Jr. and G. Trenholm Walker of Walker Gressette Freeman Linton LLC.
As for this latest lawsuit, Weathers is represented by Pheobe A. Clark of the Wukela Law Firm in Florence. He is seeking unspecified damages.
Weathers coached the Hemingway High School boys’ basketball team in 2015-16 and led it to the Class A state championship game. He has another coaching job now, but he says it was difficult to get work after his firing because his teaching certificate was suspended. It was later restored.
“For me, it’s just to correct a wrong that was done and the perception people had and how it kind of hindered my career as far as teaching and coaching,” said Weathers, the 2016 Morning News Boys' Basketball Coach of the Year. “I wanted the people to know – I’ve been quiet for two years, now – I wanted them to know what I believe is the truth and how it went down.”
Weathers said he reported to the South Carolina Department of Education what he believed to be grade-changing for students, misrepresentation of student attendance, misuse of Title 1 funds and cover-ups of sexual harassment.
“Two years ago, I tried to tell everybody this,” Weathers said. “It took the state department to come in and say the exact things that I said was going on, for the state department to come in and take over.”
Weathers said another employee set up a false account on social media to smear him with false allegations of improper communications with a student. He said the allegations led to his firing right before the 2016-17 season started.
“When I brought it to the [school superintendent and human resources manager] attention to what was going on, they called me in. I asked them why they were redoing this, because of what I said? And they said, ‘Why would you bring that up now?’” Weathers said. “The decision after that as soon as the meeting was over with, by the time I got back to my house, they had already drafted their letter. So they never even contemplated looking at both sides.”
Weathers’ first serious allegation against the school district was grade-changing.
“The administration came into my classroom and got on my computer and changed the grades of students,” Weathers recalled. “One in particular I know for sure, one’s mother worked at the school, he was not going to pass, and they changed his grade. I was told by administration to get the students that were in the EOC classes to change their scores on their overall grade average to a high-enough one – they already knew they were not going to pass the EOC. If their grade was already a 60 and they failed the EOC, they would fail their class.
"So they went in there and took the grades up to 90s and above. So if you fail your EOC, which makes 20 percent of your grade, it makes it where you still pass the class.”
Weathers added, “So that goes into if you look at how the state department took over, and one of the questions the state department asked was, ‘How does Hemingway graduate with a 92-percent grade average and only 20 percent can pass the EOCs’ and that kind of stuff. The reason they can do that is they change the grades in certain classes so the score will balance out.”
Another issue, Weathers said, involved the administration’s altering of student attendance and student discipline data.
“I was bringing it to their attention how they would funnel all the kids when they get off the bus, funnel all the kids into the cafeteria and make them sign in and then let them go through the back door just so they can keep getting whatever funds they were getting for the kids for lunch or whatever it was,” Weathers said. “I’ve seen if a child was not there, they’d still mark them present because the numbers had to be at a certain level, so what the teachers – what we were subjected to – if a child did something, we couldn’t write that child up and suspend them, because they didn’t want a certain amount of kids out of school. They wanted kids to be listed as in school.”
The lawsuit said other employees who did not refuse to alter grades or discipline and who did not report Hemingway High School’s altering of records kept their jobs. The suit said:
>> A janitor at one of the district’s schools was accused of offering girls $50 for kisses. Rather than terminate him, the district moved him across the breezeway to the high school.
>> An intervention specialist sexually harassed a teacher and was not terminated.
>> A teacher was accused of sexually harassing a female student and was simply moved from Kingstree High School to Hemingway High School.
>> An athletic director of a middle school sexually harassed one of the coaches, which was reported to the middle school and high school principals and personnel; the director kept his job and the victim faced retaliation and was transferred to another school.
“Just how they moved people around instead of just taking action,” Weathers said. “Moving one person from the middle school to a high school. You tell another person who did it to an English teacher not to go down that hallway no more. But that only lasted for a week.
“So, the female teacher is still subjected to seeing this person every day,” he added. “He’s in an administrative role. So he’s essentially one of her supervisors.”
After Weathers was fired in September 2016, his teaching certificate was suspended the next month. Weathers was never charged, and his SLED report showed no arrest history.
Then on March 28, 2017, he was granted back his teaching certificate.
Still, there were challenges to get another job.
“I had to go a whole year, and when you apply at places, they do background checks and all that kind of stuff,” Weathers said. “And with it being online, everybody – we’re in a technology age – googles and sees things. And I had a lot places that I interviewed like Marlboro County and Chesterfield, they said no because of what was out there.”
Weathers is now the boys’ basketball coach at Marion High School, where in his first season he guided the Swamp Foxes to the Class 2A lower-state final.
“I’m extremely grateful, because they did their research,” Weathers said. “They talked to every employer I had. They talked to the superintendents from other school districts that I worked in. They had talked to the state superintendent, and there were no claims. So, there was nothing for them to justify not hiring me. I’m indebted to the Marion County School District for taking a chance on me when so many other people said no.”
For now, Weathers waits for the lawsuit to play out.
“My whole thing was the ones in key positions should pay for the things they had done,” Weathers said.