South Carolina Senate addresses ethics code in school bill

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COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Some South Carolina school board officials say including extensive codes of ethics in the education reform bill is unnecessary because they already abide by state ethic codes and the changes may sway people from being part of their local school governing bodies.

South Carolina Senators heard public testimony for the first time Wednesday on part of an education reform bill set to overhaul the state's education system. Members of a Senate education subcommittee focused the hearing only on the school board code of ethics sections of the bill.

The proposed legislation would require the State Board of Education to adopt a model code of ethics for local school boards to adopt by June, 2020, but school board officials said they already comply with state ethics laws. Tony Folk, President of the South Carolina School Boards Association, said board members already adhere to laws pertaining to nepotism, conflicts of interest as other state elected officials and said he feared enforcing stricter codes would prevent people from wanting to serve.

"Many of the requirements pertaining to school boards come across heavy handed. We are concerned that these additions may keep citizens from serving on the school board" Folk said. "We should not make it even more cumbersome to run."

North Myrtle Beach Sen. Greg Hembree proposed an amendment to remove a considerable part of the ethics portion of the bill including a section where board members would have faced criminal charges for not completing a mandated training program.

"I don't believe philosophically there's any justification to create separate rules of ethics," the Republican Senator said. "Saying school board members are subject to ethics laws higher than what the General Assembly has to do, higher than what a mayor or city council has to do just doesn't make any sense."

However, Ridge View High School educator Steve Nuzum said the problem is not the lack of ethics codes but whether the rules are being enforced.

"We talk about accountability all the time in education for teachers and we talk about it for students and we all need to be accountable especially for our voters," Nuzum said. "There doesn't seem to be a lot of enforcement for a lot of the things that would get me rightly fired from my job."

No action was taken on the bill. Education committee Chair Sen. Hembree said lawmakers will meet next week to further discuss the legislation.


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