The hearing was called to determine if Marlow violated the school board’s code of ethics by sending a complaint letter in June to AdvancEd and Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, the agency in charge of school accreditation, claiming that the district was in violation of their standards and/or policies.
School Board Chair Janet Read said Friday she’s ready for the hearing procedures to be finished.
“I’m happy to just get this next step in the process completed so that we can move on and get back to the main focus of teaching and learning,” Read said.
“I was pleased to see the parameters that the hearing officer set forward, because, basically, this is just a hearing held in public. I was pleased that the number of people were limited in the audience, but also very pleased that as a school district we were able to provide an alternate venue for people to watch it in real-time.”
The hearing in the School Board Auditorium is limited to 100 members of the public who must follow a strict code of conduct to ensure fairness, but a live broadcast will also take place at the Cherokee High School auditorium and admission is only limited to the auditorium capacity of 1,050 people.
Doors will open at 5:30 p.m. and the hearing will begin at 6 p.m. for both the hearing at the historic Canton High School Board Auditorium and the live broadcast at the Cherokee High School auditorium.
Christine Rea, creator of the group Smart Citizens Rally Against Marlow, or SCRAM!, said she’s ready to get the hearing over with and move on.
“It’s climactic and anti-climactic at the same time, we have been waiting for so long for it to happen, that I think people are just ready to have an answer,” Rea said Friday.
“It’ll be nice to actually have an answer to something, whether or not the ethics hearing finds her behavior unethical or not, it’ll be nice to finally have something.”
Rea said she expects as many as 100 members of the group to attend either the hearing or live broadcast, though only around 65 people had RSVP’d to the event online through the group’s Facebook page on Friday.
“In my experience with doing (online RSVPs), it always seems like the number of people that have RSVP’d versus the number of people who go is about double,” Rea said.
If the school board decides that Marlow has violated the ethics policy, Rea said that decision would give the SCRAM! group a firm reason to go forward with a recall effort.
“If we have to move forward with the recall, this will give us just a little bit of something to go on for that,” Rea said.
On Thursday, School District spokeswoman Barbara Jacoby announced Hearing Officer Hugh Dorsey’s requests for conduct, stating that Dorsey requested that there be no comments or other reactions like cheering, clapping or heckling from the audience at the hearing.
Additionally, Dorsey requested that there be no signs, displays or clothing that reflected opinions about Marlow or related issues. Jacoby said that anyone who does not follow this code will not be permitted into the School Board Auditorium.
The conduct rules will not apply to those watching the live broadcast from the Cherokee High School Auditorium, Jacoby said Friday, but “audience members will be asked to refrain from making comments and other reactions during the broadcast so that everyone may hear the proceedings.”
“There are no restrictions on the clothing for the high school, because that is not the hearing venue. The hearing officer only made the request for the hearing venue,” Jacoby said.
On Thursday, Marlow said she appreciated Dorsey’s work “to provide the framework for a fair hearing,” and said she was glad “this hearing officer believes in decorum at public meetings,” but did not comment on whether or not she had hired an attorney.
On Friday, Marlow did not respond to a request for comments before the deadline for publication.
“What the board is going to determine, is if Ms. Marlow’s actions were a violation of the code of ethics,” Jacoby said Friday. “If they decide that (Marlow’s actions) were a violation, then they can issue a sanction. If they decide there was not a violation, then they would probably decide there is not a sanction.”
In July, Marlow joined the board in a unanimous vote to hold the ethics hearing, and in August AdvancEd found the district was not in violation of the agency’s standards and/or policies.
Read cited two specific policies, when the board voted to hold the hearing, which Marlow may have violated by sending the letter to AdvancEd.
The two policy violations that will be discussed at the hearing come from the School Board Code of Ethics, in the area of “Board Ethics.”
The policies state school board members should, “Recognize that the authority of the board rests only with the board as a whole and not with individual board members and act accordingly,” and, “Take no private action that will compromise the board or school system administration.”
If the school board determines that Marlow has violated the board’s code of ethics, Jacoby said it would be “up to the school board to determine what that sanction would be.”
“The only things that it cannot be: they cannot remove her from the school board, they cannot prevent her from attending school board meetings and they cannot prevent her from voting. But otherwise they have a lot of latitude as to what sanction they want to issue,” Jacoby said.
Read said that she’s confident that the school board attorney and hearing officer will do a professional job with the hearing proceedings.
“This will be the first ethics hearing I have ever attended, much less been a part of, so I don’t really have any expectations. I’m confident that the School Board Attorney Tom Roach, and the hearing officer, will do a great job of keeping everyone on track and keeping us focused on the two issues that we need to consider as a board,” Read said. “I’m just going to be listening and taking notes, and relying on the experts in this area to move us forward with the hearing.”
A video of the hearing will be put up on the district’s website as soon as the day after the hearing, Jacoby said.
“How quickly we can do that will just depend on the length of the hearing and the technology that we use,” Jacoby said.