Williston District 29’s superintendent has resigned, just three weeks after she was placed on leave following the discovery of a tape recorder.
The school board Wednesday unanimously accepted the immediate resignation of Dr. Missoura Ashe after meeting in closed session with their lawyers during its meeting. Ashe worked in the Richmond County school system for 37 years, including as assistant superintendent of Elementary Schools, School Improvement and Professional Learning, before coming to Williston in 2015.
“The board and Dr. Ashe believe this decision is in our mutual best interest, the best interest of students and the best interest of the Williston-Elko communities,” according to a public statement provided after the meeting.
Ashe was placed on paid administrative leave effective Sept. 1, but the board provided no details at that time as to why she was on leave. However, a report and statements recently released by the Barnwell County Sheriff’s Office provide new light on the matter.
Debbie McNeil, who is Ashe’s secretary, discovered a tape recorder behind her typewriter when she arrived at work on Aug. 31. She said she arrived around 10:30 a.m. due to a dentist appointment, which Ashe was aware of.
At one point that morning McNeil went to the front office to retrieve papers she printed. Upon returning to her office, she noticed her Blue Devil figurine was missing. She then went to look for it behind the desk.
“As I looked I noticed something behind my typewriter. I picked it up and it was a digital recorder and it was recording,” said McNeil in a written statement the school resource officer collected.
McNeil handed the recorder over to co-worker Amy Nix, who then informed human resources coordinator Stephanie Alford of the matter. McNeil also showed Nix “how the recorder was propped up,” according to a statement from Nix.
After seeking legal advice and handing the evidence over to school resource officer Andrew Fedrick, Alford called a meeting with McNeil, Ashe and Fedrick. She told the group that she was going to start a “formal report” regarding the incident, according to Alford’s written statement.
That’s when Ashe “stated that it was her recorder and that she accidentally dropped it earlier that morning and requested that we give it back to her,” Alford said.
In her written statement, Ashe explained how she arrived at work around 7:55 a.m. the day the recorder was discovered. She said she was using it to record a personal cell phone conversation with her daughter.
While conversing, Ashe said she was moving some district calendars around and placed them under McNeil’s printer. While she isn’t exactly sure what she did, Ashe said she hit the Blue Devil, picked it up, dropped her recorder while still on the phone with her daughter, and then placed the figurine back on the shelf. She could not locate the recorder.
Her office phone then rang, so she hung up with her daughter in order to answer the other phone. She then left her office around 9:15 a.m. for about two hours to meet with principals before returning to the office.
Statements from those involved state that Ashe said several times during the meeting with Alford that it was her recorder and that she wanted it back. All the statements note that Ashe apologized to McNeil, who was visibly upset by the incident.
While the statements have been placed on file with the sheriff’s office, Barnwell County Sheriff Ed Carroll said Ashe was not being investigated by his office.
McNeil signed a waiver, which means she did not wish to seek criminal prosecution in the case. The recorder was then returned to Ashe, although Nix previously made a copy of the content, which is approximately three hours long.
Board Chairwoman Ferlecia Cuthbertson and Vice-chair Michael Hutto met with Ashe that afternoon and placed her on administrative leave with full pay and benefits effective Sept. 1. Employees were sent an email on Sept. 1 stating that Ashe was on leave, but details of the circumstances were not provided.
“While on paid administrative leave, you may not return to any Williston District 29 facility for any reason or attend any district- or school-related functions without prior, express permission from Mr. Hutto or me,” stated Cuthbertson in a follow-up letter to Ashe that is dated August 31.
Ashe was also advised to have no contact with district employees, not discuss the circumstances of her leave with the public, and to be available during normal work hours if they needed to contact her in regards to the investigation.
The board expects to name an interim superintendent in the coming days so the district will have a “strong leader during this critical time of the 2017-18 school year,” according to the public statement.
“Some of you may recall that on a previous occasion, the district was very effectively served by an interim superintendent,” the statement continued.
“We appreciate the patience of our students, staff, and the community at large while we make these important decisions. Thank you for your continued understanding and support of our students,” stated the release.