The agency that accredits schools in Lexington-Richland 5 says it plans to take no action on a complaint it received this summer about the hiring of the school district's interim superintendent.
Cognia, which accredits 36,000 school systems around the country, told The State that the Chapin-Irmo area school district won't face any sanctions for the complaint filed by several former Lexington-Richland 5 leaders, which is now the subject of a district-initiated lawsuit.
"We received the complaint, we acknowledged it to the complainant, and at this time no action is planned," said Mariama Tyler, a Cognia spokesperson, when contacted by The State.
Three former Lexington-Richland 5 superintendents and two former school board chairmen had asked Cognia to review the hiring of former high school principal and administrator Akil Ross. They argued the structure of Ross's contract as interim superintendent - which contracts with Ross' consulting firm, HeartEd LLC, for superintendent services rather than hiring Ross directly - was improper.
They also raised concerns about the fact a non-profit run by Ross had received donations from Lexington-Richland 5 board members Catherine Huddle and Ken Loveless before Ross was named the interim superintendent.
The controversy didn't stop with the Cognia complaint. Last month, the school district filed a lawsuit against former superintendent Stephen Hefner claiming he had "maliciously interfered" with the superintendent contract by authoring the letter to the accrediting agency.
In a lawsuit that calls the accreditation complaint "wrongful, malicious and politically motivated," the school district requests a jury trial that could impose punitive damages on Hefner.
Hefner was joined in making the complaint by former superintendents Herbert Berg and Wendell Clamp and former school board chairmen Danny Brabham and Carl Hust. But the lawsuit singles out Hefner because it claims he "contacted (the others who signed the letter) and convinced them to participate in his complaint without providing them with accurate information, particularly regarding his motivation in filing the complaint."
Cognia said it found "no grounds to justify further actions," according to its policies and procedures, Tyler said. The district's lawsuit said Cognia told Ross "the complaint did not raise an issue that could legitimately impact the District's accreditation."
At a board meeting shortly after the Cognia complaint was filed, the Lexington-Richland 5 school board voted to take legal action against the signers of the complaint, "In the event the individuals who filed the complaint do not withdraw that complaint and apologize to the district and Dr. Ross," Loveless said at the time.
"To date, Hefner has not apologized to the District or Ross for his intentional interference with the contract," the lawsuit says.