Originally created 12/15/04

Report clears school leader



AIKEN - Midland Valley Preparatory School principal Lilian Thomas was cleared of any wrongdoing after a three-month investigation, even though the Aiken County school board would not listen to the entire report at its meeting Tuesday night.

The charter school's seven-member executive board had voted to end the investigation, led by attorney Bruce Davis of Columbia, after he presented his report Dec. 7.

Bobby Montgomery, the executive board's chairman, spoke to the county board Tuesday about the 10 charges made against the principal.

But after 35 minutes of listening to the contents of the report and a heated exchange between Mr. Davis and county board Chairman John Bradley, the board voted to hear only 10 more minutes of the investigation's findings.

After another 15-minute presentation by Mr. Montgomery, Dr. Bradley cut them off.

"I think the board should have heard the entire report," Ms. Thomas said. "And I think that this is a situation that could have been avoided."

The investigation began in early August after six former Midland Valley Preparatory teachers from a staff of 14 made allegations of fraud and falsified documents against Ms. Thomas. The Aiken County Board of Education recommended the Midland Valley board place Ms. Thomas on leave with pay.

But the charter school's board - made up of community members and teachers required under state charter school law - voted to leave Ms. Thomas in place during the investigation.

Mr. Davis said the six former teachers who made the allegations did not respond in a positive way to written requests for their help in the investigation.

"They said they would cooperate and, as an investigator, they simply ignored my written requests," Mr. Davis said. "We've had to gather the facts without their help in many instances."

Lisa Bishop, one of the six former Midland Valley Preparatory teachers, said it has been a very challenging time for the educators who came forward.

"We took what we knew and turned it over to the proper authorities and we're having to put our faith in the system," she said.

Mr. Davis said that he was both surprised and appalled by the way the Aiken County Board of Education handled the issue, which he said caused unnecessary harm for Mrs. Thomas.

"There's no way that Mrs. Thomas can ever recover from this. The damage has been done," he said. "She has done nothing wrong. But the bell has been rung and you can't unring it. "

Reach Karen Ethridge at (803) 648-1395, ext. 109, or karen.ethridge@augustachronicle.com.