A Richland County School District One teacher — who claims she was sexually harassed by her principal and then bullied by the district for reporting the incident — is suing the school district.
Dr. Valerie Byrd filed the lawsuit against Richland One — a scandal scarred school district in Columbia, South Carolina — on June 9.
According to the lawsuit, Byrd began working as a substitutue teacher in the Richland One school district in 2012.
On July 16, 2019, Blackwell asked Byrd to come to the school to discuss the teaching position. Byrd met Blackwell in his office, where he told her he was working with human resources to get the teaching position posted and she should apply after it’s posted, according to the lawsuit.
Then, Blackwell told Byrd that “if he helped her get the position, he would expect something from her in return,” the lawsuit said.
Byrd rejected this — and told him if she got the job, it would be because she was qualified, according to the lawsuit.
Over the summer, Blackwell sent Byrd several texts asking if she had applied, according to the lawsuit.
Byrd eventually applied for the job and was hired, the lawsuit said.
On November 14, 2019, Blackwell asked Byrd to come see him in his office, according to the lawsuit.
During that meeting, Blackwell told Byrd that she was beautiful and said he didn’t hire “ugly women,” according to the lawsuit.
He told her that “he could have given her job to someone else, but she was beautiful and sexy, and he was still waiting for her to return his favor of getting her the job,” the lawsuit said.
She asked what he wanted.
He said “a quicky,” according to the lawsuit.
Byrd asked him to clarify.
He then told her he wanted to have sex with her, according to the lawsuit
During this conversation, Blackwell kept touching Byrd and she told him to stop, the lawsuit said.
According to the lawsuit, Blackwell became angry.
On December 15, 2019, Byrd filed a sexual harassment complaint to Lisa McClain of the Richland One human resources department.
Two days later, Blackwell denied Byrd’s leave request, according to the lawsuit.
On January 15, Byrd asked Blackwell for a professional reference, as she was hoping to transfer to a different school. Blackwell provided the reference three months later, according to the lawsuit.
In February 2020, Byrd met with an outside law firm who were investigating the sexual harassment complaint against Blackwell. She provided phone logs to show how many times Blackwell contacted her, according to the lawsuit.
On May 9, 2020, Byrd emailed McClain and asked about the status of the sexual harassment investigation. She didn’t respond, according to the lawsuit.
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On May 10, 2020 Byrd emailed the outside law firm about the investigation and was told that Richland One’s attorney had information on the investigation, the lawsuit said.
On May 11, 2020, Byrd received an email from Jeannetta Scott, Richland One Executive Director of Schools, who said she was going to get transferred to another school, according to the lawsuit.
On June 15, 2020, Byrd emailed Scott about the status of the investigation. Scott then told her he would be hearing from Dr. Jeffery Long, Richland One Director of Human Resources, the lawsuit said.
On June 16, 2020, Long emailed Byrd and said “the investigation was closed and there were no findings of sexual harassment,” according to the lawsuit.
According to the lawsuit, on August 10, 2020, Byrd “filed a charge of gender discrimination due to sexual harassment and retaliation with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission” against Richland One.
Last fall, Byrd started teaching remotely for Pine Grove Elementary.
Nine days after she started working there, Byrd received a “pretextual professional growth plan” from Dr. Toyletta W. Riley, an assistant administrator at the school, the lawsuit said.
“The issues identified in the professional growth and development plan given by (Richland One) were experienced by numerous similarly situated teachers at Pine Grove Elementary due to technical issues outside of Byrd’s control,” the lawsuit said. “Only Byrd was disciplined.”
In September 2020, Byrd emailed Scott about mistreatment at Pine Grove and said that she believed it was “retaliatory in nature and a result of her sexual harassment complaint from the prior academic year,” the lawsuit said.
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In November 2020, Byrd was told she was no longer a virtual teacher and to start reporting to school without a class to teach, according to the lawsuit.
Days later, Byrd “emailed Long with a complaint concerning the harassment/mistreatment and lack of support at Pine Grove Elementary School,” the lawsuit said. She also said that she hadn’t received the professional development credits she earned.
On November 19, 2020, Claudia Brooks-McCallum, principal at Sandel Elementary School, emailed Byrd and accused her of changing a student’s grade that she taught virtually.
On that same day, Pine Grove principal Dr. Tracy M. Pickett “demanded” that Byrd “stop making complaints of retaliation, harassment, disparate treatment, or other such negative treatment as a result of her prior complaints of sexual harassment,” the lawsuit said.
Pickett threatened Byrd and said if she didn’t stop, she’d suffer repercussions, according to the lawsuit. She then accused Byrd of being a liar.
Other teachers could hear Pickett’s yelling, according to the lawsuit.
For the next two months, Byrd was shuffled around the district and assigned to a substitute teaching position, which is a demotion, the lawsuit said.
In January, she was forced to take medical leave due to stress, according to the lawsuit.
After she returned in March, she was told her teaching contract wouldn’t be renewed, the lawsuit said.
Byrd is suing Richland One for gender discrimination, retaliation, Title IX violations, and defamation.
Columbia, South Carolina attorney Samantha E. Albrecht is representing Byrd in the case.
Blackwell is still the principal at Arden Elementary.
Richland One Problems
Richland One has 227 teacher vacancies to fill for the 2021-2022 school year, the report updated on June 13 said.
To compare, Greenville County School District, the largest in the state with more than 5,000 teachers and 74,000 students, only has 109 vacancies as of recently.
Enrollment numbers at Richland One are declining — the district has lost more than 1,500 students in the last year.
Richland One spends more per pupil than a majority of school districts in South Carolina. In the 2020-2021 school year, it spent $21,160 per pupil which is significantly higher than the state’s average at $14,801.
The district has been sued in at least 12 lawsuits in the last year and a half for various employee and student issues. For comparison, Richland Two has been sued at least twice in that same time period.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR..
Mandy Matney is the news director at FITSNews. She’s an investigative journalist from Kansas who has worked for newspapers in Missouri, Illinois, and South Carolina before making the switch to FITS. She currently lives on Hilton Head Island where she enjoys beach life. Mandy also hosts the Murdaugh Murders podcast. Want to contact Mandy? Send your story ideas, comments, suggestions and tips to [email protected].
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