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Former South Carolina Principal Sues School District, Lowcountry Newspaper

“The Island Packet falsely attributed falsehoods,” according to lawsuit …

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The former principal of Beaufort High School – located in the picturesque South Carolina Lowcountry – has filed a defamation lawsuit against the entire Beaufort County school board. She’s also suing the parent company of a local newspaper after a report surfaced last April falsely claiming she had been fired from her position.

Carla Shelton – a veteran Georgia educator – was the focus of an article that ran in April 2023 in The (Hilton Head, S.C.) Island Packet, which is owned by McClatchy. The story’s original headline alleged that Shelton was “fired for disciplinary reasons,” citing a school board member as its source. The story was later updated to indicate Shelton was “put on leave” for disciplinary reasons.

An editor’s note added to the updated article indicated “an earlier version of this story said the principal was fired but was changed to reflect that she was put on leave, according to two board members.”

Shelton was hired as principal of Beaufort High in June of 2022 after spending decades as an educator in Georgia. She retired from the Georgia public school system in 2022 and relocated to Beaufort County, where she was hired to serve as principal of Beaufort High for the 2022-2023 school year.

According to the lawsuit (.pdf), Shelton’s stint in South Carolina was marred by “difficulties with a long-tenured teacher who ran an academic program that was beneficial for college applicants.” According to Shelton, this teacher “created arbitrary prerequisite barriers” to the program which, according to her, “discouraged minority students from participating.”

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After instructing the teacher to “remove (these) arbitrary barriers,” the teacher allegedly became “openly insubordinate” and organized a campaign to target Shelton, according to the lawsuit.

As this battle continued to unfold through the spring of 2023, Shelton said she recognized the district “would not support her” and decided to resign her position at the end of the 2022-2023 school year.

On April 24, 2023, the lawsuit alleged, the school district “agreed to allow (Shelton) to serve out the remainder of her contract year, until her resignation, on administrative leave to allow for new leadership to take over” at the school.

That same day, the article in The Island Packet was published … alleging Shelton “had been fired by two board members.”

“The article did not say who the board members were,” according to the lawsuit. “The article stated that (Shelton) was fired, which was false. Notably, (Shelton) was not even asked to resign, but had done so based on her own observations about the level of support that she received from the district office in dealing with a problem teacher.”

Things get even more interesting as it relates to Shelton’s allegations against The Island Packet.

(Click to View)

Carla Shelton (Beaufort County School District)

According to her lawsuit, the paper “never sought comment” from her before running either of its stories – and that the board members named in the lawsuit “each deny having made the false statements at issue” to the paper.

“Their position suggests that the Island Packet falsely attributed the falsehoods in the original and corrected article,” the lawsuit noted.

What does the school district think of Shelton’s legal filing?

“The district is unable to comment on pending legal matters,” communications officer Candace Bruder told us.

A message left with Brian Tolley – president and editor of The Island Packet – was not immediately returned.

Shelton is seeking a jury trial and a “reasonable sum for all damages … including punitive damages where legally cognizable.”

Concerned parents tracking this saga told us they weren’t completely convinced about Shelton’s claims against the teacher, but that the real issue was a school board member allegedly lying to the media.

“I highly doubt her claims about the teacher,” one district parent told us. “(Shelton) was extremely difficult to work with – but none of that matters when the crux of the issue is a board member (falsely) reporting she was fired. That board member overstepped his role and reported something that was blatantly false.”

“He’s a liability,” the parent added, referring to the board member.

Stay tuned to this media outlet for updates as this case makes its way through the court system …

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THE LAWSUIT …

(S.C. Fourteenth Judicial Circuit)

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR …

(Travis Bell Photography)

Will Folks is the founding editor of the news outlet you are currently reading. Prior to founding FITSNews, he served as press secretary to the governor of South Carolina and before that he was a bass guitarist and dive bar bouncer. He lives in the Midlands region of the state with his wife and seven (soon to be eight) children.

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