The board voted 5-2, with Marlow and Michael Geist opposed, that Marlow violated the first policy in question to “Recognize that the authority of the board rests only with the board as a whole and not with individual board members and act accordingly.”
The board then voted 6-1, with only Marlow opposed, that she violated the other policy in question: “Take no private action that will compromise the board or school system administration.”
The School Board then went through a lengthy discussion about how Marlow should be sanctioned, and took several rounds of voting before agreeing in a 5-2 vote that she would pay $3,600 to reimburse the School District to help cover some of the cost of the hearing. Marlow and Geist were the only to oppose making the accused board member pay.
Marlow declined to comment after the hearing Wednesday.
The hearing was called to determine if Marlow violated the school board’s code of ethics by sending a complaint letter in June to AdvancEd and Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, the agency in charge of school accreditation, claiming that the district was in violation of their standards and/or policies. The agency later cleared the School District of any violations.
Before the vote to sanction Marlow, Board Member Rob Usher said he was against any financial penalty for Marlow.
“I think the public humiliation that’s involved with this should serve as punishment,” Usher said. “I don’t think the financial impact on this has been severe.”
Geist said Marlow’s action of sending the letter to AdvancED was due to “inexperience” as a board member, but that she wasn’t the first to make such a mistake due to being new on the board.
Board Member Rick Steiner said the taxpayers shouldn’t have to pay for Marlow’s inexperience.
During the four-hour long hearing, Marlow’s attorney Tom Salata and School Board Attorney Tom Roach called several witnesses, including Marlow and Cherokee Superintendent of Schools Dr. Frank Petruzielo.
Petruzeilo described Marlow’s letter to AdvancED without the prior approval of the School Board as “highly inappropriate.”
“I think that is one of the worst things a board member could do,” he said. “This has been more than a distraction.”
In his closing arguments Wednesday night, Salata warned the members of the board not to vote against Marlow, because they might be next.
“Be careful who you write an email to and who you send a letter to,” Salata said. “You may very well be considered unethical. Everybody’s subject to the same laws. The issue before you is not the contents of the letter. The issue is only whether she sent it. That’s scary. You can be brought up just for sending a letter.”
Roach disagreed during his closing arguments.
“This is not a violation of free speech in my opinion,” Roach said. “It’s not just the fact that she sent the letter. You have to glean the intent from this circumstance.”
Roach said Marlow had an agenda for sending the letter, rather than just to alert SACS of potential issues within the Board.
“Ms. Marlow sent the letter with the intent of bending the will of the Board,” he said.
Salata said his client only sent the letter because she saw issues within the board.
“This person saw something she didn’t like,” he said. “(Petruzielo) was not answering questions.”
Residents in attendance Wednesday night were quick to offer their opinions on the situation.
“It’s a witch hunt,” said Cherokee County resident Debbie Staver.
Carol Taylor, however, said she moved to Cherokee County specifically for the quality school district and Marlow’s actions have been dangerous.
“There’s no question she put our students in jeopardy,” Taylor said. “I’m just ticked. My children were at risk.”
Erica Williams, who said she had a child attending Woodstock High School, said all Marlow did was have concerns and raise questions.
“That’s what we elected her for,” Williams said.
Another resident came prepared to pass out T-shirts that had the slogan “Dr. P IS MY EMPLOYEE,” in large letters across the back, and ‘I’M Dr. P’s BOSS,” on the front.
The hearing in the School Board Auditorium was limited to 100 members of the public, but a live broadcast took place at the Cherokee High School auditorium and a live video stream of the hearing was broadcast online.
In July, Marlow joined the board in a unanimous vote to hold the ethics hearing, and in August AdvancEd found the district was not in violation of the agency’s standards and/or policies.
The two policy violations that were discussed at the hearing come from the School Board Code of Ethics, in the area of “Board Ethics.”
According to policy, Marlow can appeal the decision to the state School Board.
Marlow told local news media in an interview this week that if the school board decided that she had violated the code of ethics, she planned to appeal the decision to the state School Board.