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Schools: Rural residents support principal charged with neglect
By Charles Swenson
School, community and church members from rural Georgetown County told the school board this week the first-year principal of their elementary school deserves a second chance. About 200 people gathered to show support for Kimberly Nesmith, who is facing a felony charge for child neglect after leaving two children in her locked SUV while she shopped at a Pawleys Island area supermarket last month.
“We support Miss Kimberly Means Nesmith 100 percent,” said Andrea Collins, president of the Parent Teacher Organization at Browns Ferry Elementary School, where Nesmith was named principal this year. “This is no reflection on what she is capable of.”
A deputy was called to Publix around 6 p.m. on Sept. 5 after two girls, 5 and 6, were seen banging on the windows of the vehicle “in an obvious state of distress.” The air temperature was 85 degrees and the SUV was parked in the sun.
Staff at the store said they paged Nesmith when customers saw the girls crying. She told the staff “they would be OK” and continued to shop with another child, 2.
Nesmith was arrested and released on a $10,000 personal recognizance bond. She was placed on administrative leave with pay by the district while the charges are pending, which is standard procedure, said Lindsay Anne Thompson, the district’s in-house attorney.
The school board reviewed Nesmith’s contract during an executive session this week, but took no action. The fate of her career hinges on the outcome of the court proceedings and a ruling by the state Board of Education on the status of her license. Nesmith is represented by Ronnie Sabb, an attorney in Kingstree who also represents the western part of Georgetown County in the state Senate.
None of the speakers at the county school board meeting disputed the circumstances of Nesmith’s arrest. But the Rev. Dr. Sandy Drayton, presiding elder of the Georgetown District of the AME Church, said Nesmith fills many roles. “The ladies here will understand multitasking,” he said, any that multitaskers “are sometimes misrepresented in the things we are trying to do.”
“Forgive and give a second chance,” Drayton told the board. “If you are disappointed in her actions, believe me, she is more disappointed.”
Marvin Neal, president of the local NAACP chapter, said Nesmith’s “mistakes” were offset by her achievements. “We’re asking you not to give up on Kimberly because Kimberly will not give up on our children,” he told the board.
Board Member Arthur Lance, whose district includes Browns Ferry, said afterward he had not received any comment about Nesmith before the meeting. Chairman Jim Dumm told the audience, “we appreciate all the comments. We will take them to heart.”
“I recommended her, the board approved her,” Superintendent Randy Dozier said afterward. “It’s good to know the community supports her.”
Marthena Grate-Morant is serving as the interim principal. She was working part time in the district office after retiring several years ago as the district’s human resources director. Her career in the district also included time as the Browns Ferry Elementary principal.
The board also heard from a Waccamaw High parent who questioned the board’s decision last month to seek an order from the U.S. District Court ending federal oversight of the district that began with a desegregation suit in 1969.
Maureen Mulligan told the board she was at its pervious meeting because her son received an award for a perfect score on the state end-of-course exams. The number of awards to Waccamaw students was more than the other three high schools combined. “There’s not much diversity in the way of achievement in academics,” she said.
The board agreed last month to join the U.S. Department of Justice in a motion ending oversight for transportation, facilities and extracurricular activities.
Dumm said the final decision is up to the court.