Delay likely in schools hearing

Donnie Douglas -

LUMBERTON — The lead attorney in a lawsuit against the Board of Education for the Public Schools of Robeson County believes there is a good chance that a hearing scheduled for this week on a temporary restraining order forbidding the hiring of a schools superintendent could be postponed.

Gary Locklear, a former Superior Court judge, cited cooperation from the school system in turning over records that the plaintiffs argue will show six school board members violated the state’s open meetings law by colluding outside of the public purview in trying to hire Thomas Graves, a Virginia educator. The offer was rescinded by the school board on Tuesday, the same day that Superior Court Judge Jack Hooks issued the temporary restraining order, which Locklear said makes the hearing somewhat “moot.”

Graves has said he would apply for the position after the school board advertises it, which it did not do previously, violating the system’s own policy.

Locklear is joined by local attorneys Tiffany Powers and Joshua Malcolm in the lawsuit, which was filed on behalf of a group of minors who say Graves’ hiring could cause them damage. They are offering their services for free.

The hearing is scheduled for 9 a.m. Wednesday at the Robeson County courthouse, and would be heard by either Superior Court Judge Ola Lewis from Brunswick County or Superior Court Judge James Webb from Moore County.

“There is a real possibility it will be postponed,” Locklear said. “We should know late Monday.”

Locklear said that schools attorney Grady Hunt is cooperating with Judge Hooks’ order from last week that the system turn over emails, phone records and other correspondence that might show that the six board members who voted to fire Superintendent Tommy Lowry and hire Graves violated the law. They are Dwayne Smith, Randy Lawson, Steve Martin, Brian Freeman, Charles Bullard and Peggy Wilkins-Chavis.

Locklear indicated that the amount of work that requires could force the delay in the hearing. The hearing is only to determine if the restraining order would be dropped or continue.

Locklear said the case itself could be months away from going to trial, and could be lengthy when that does happen. The lawsuit names the entire school board for its collective action to fire Lowry and hire Graves, but also names the six board members as individuals, which means they could not rely on the school system’s attorney but would have to hire their own. The lawsuit also puts them at risk for financial liability.

School board Chair Loistine Defreece, Craig Lowry, Mike Smith and Brenda Fairley Ferebee voted against Lowry’s firing and Graves’ hiring, and a fifth board member, John Campbell, missed the meeting. Campbell has since used Facebook to complain about what he called the “Six,” saying that none would flip their vote and rehire Lowry.

The school system is now on the hook to pay Lowry not to work. His contract runs through June 30, 2018, and his salary was about $180,000 a year.

Donnie Douglas

Editor Donnie Douglas can be reached at 910-416-5649.

Editor Donnie Douglas can be reached at 910-416-5649.

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