FSD1 board member outraged over racially insensitive emails


Florence School District One Board member Alexis Pipkins, Sr. said he's outraged that he didn't find out about what the district calls racially insensitive terminology in emails sent to a district employee back in August by former board member Glenn Odom.

Pipkins expressed his frustration Thursday night during a school board meeting.

School Board Chairman Barry Townsend didn't divulge what the terminology was, but we're told it relates to the skin color of African American school board members.

Odom has since resigned citing a move to another area in Florence.

Townsend read from a prepared statement on the emails. Here's an excerpt of what he said:

On August 29, a member of the Florence School District One Board of Trustees sent two emails containing racially inappropriate language to a district employee. The employee immediately and appropriately reported the emails to the superintendent. Who did share this information with me as chairman. There is no place in this district where this sort of speech is tolerated. Even in jest. However, legal and counsel informed me that the recourse is available to the board were limited. Therefore, the vice chair and I met with the board member twice. The second time,with the board's legal counsel present. And asked the board member to resign. The vice chair and I also personally informed the remaining board members of the situation and our subsequent actions. On October 2, the board member notified me of his decision to resign.

Pipkins said it's a violation of school board policy for the chairman and vice chairman to meet on school district business without all board members presents.

He added he's appalled that Townsend knew of the emails on Aug. 29 after they were sent out, but didn't notify Pipkins until Sept. 30.

Pipkins spoke to the board during the public participation segment of the meeting:

To sit at a board meeting tonight understanding and recognizing. And I'm being dismissed by some of you who decide to look the other way. But, it is clear to me that when you take your responsibilities out of order. And don't follow the code of ethics. That we all swore to as board members. And then you also violate the policy of the board. All nine board members have the same authority. Only when we convened as a board. There's a board member who isn't present here tonight. However, the chairman and the vice chairman of this board met with that person after an email surfaced on August the 29. And I'm not certain when it was given to you, but you met with a board member outside of the scope of the board. That is a breach of board policy because you have no authority outside of the convening. So, tonight, I stand as it relates to attempting to bully. Or to pressure the board member into resigning. Without bringing the issue before all nine board members is a violation of board policy. Secondly, I appreciate the opportunity to understand that you may have thought that you were the protectors of the community. Actually what this is become, is the protector of the historical ugliness of our community. Because when you understand, I'm going to recommend that you read a book called " Growing Up Black" edited by J. David. Because you don't know what it's like to walk in the shows of an African American male. Who when he was a student at Wilson High School faced racism in the clearest sense. And was treated in an ugly manner for the fact, that I was black. And my name did not match my skin color.

Townsend said he feels as if the situation was handled appropriately, legally and professionally:

As board members, we must be willing and able to equally represented each and every of the nearly 17,000 students in Florence School District One. And we should model the behavior that we expect from our students and staff. And this instance, an individual board member fell far short of that goal. And in doing so could give the community cause to question his ability to represent 53 percent of the students in our school. However, the remaining eight of us now have the opportunity to collectively demonstrate to our students and I neighbors that offensive and hurtful speech, has no place in our schools or our community. If I can take one positive away from this unfortunate incident , it's this. When informed of the emails, every single one of your your board members expressed the exact same sentiment. That we must not let this incident divide and distract us from the very important work that we have before us on behalf of each and every student in Florence School District one.

Pipkins said there's no excuse for how the matter was handled and the fact that it appears that Odom was made to resign.

I am concerned about the direction of Florence School District One by the current chair. I want the record to reflect. And I'm also concerned about the direction of this board and this district by the current administration. And if I had to vote tonight, it would be a vote of no confidence. We are being bullied. We are not being a cooperative, collaborative body. We were created to represent the voices of our community. Not to be bullied into one direction.

Our calls to Odom haven't been returned at this point.

RELATED: Florence group upset over insensitive words used by former school board member in emails

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