CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - The rash of high-level resignations and terminations within the Charleston County School District continues with another executive announcing she plans to retire at the end of the month.
Executive Director of Alternative Programs and Services Jennifer Coker notified district leadership last week that she plans to retire Sept. 30.
The district did not provide any insight into her departure but in a statement confirmed that her department would undergo a reorganization.
“As part of our district’s efforts to ensure instructional alignment and school support, several offices are being reorganized, including the Department of Alternative Programs and Services,” the district said in a statement. “Those details are still being finalized at this time.”
As the head of the DAP, Coker is in charge of student discipline and several schools catering to students with special needs – particularly those with behavioral problems.
Coker leaves with a number of lawsuits from employees and former employees working at some of those schools still on the books . Coker is named in at least four federal lawsuits, one from an employee at Liberty Hill Academy and another from Daniel Jenkins Academy.
In both cases, employees say they were violently assaulted by students and subjected to a hostile work environment. They accuse the district, and Coker specifically, of not adequately providing a safe environment for them to work.
All four lawsuits have been dismissed without prejudice, but can be restored at anytime within the next six months. Larry Kobrovsky, the attorney representing the employees, says he requested the cases be put on pause on he could focus on them one at a time. He says he fully plans to restore them later this year.
In the lawsuit from former Liberty Hill teacher assistant Vera Gordon, Gordon’s lawyers allege the troubles started when the academy was transitioned from a K-12 school for special education students to a school for K-8 special education students and students expelled from other schools. The lawsuit alleges Coker was behind the transition that was implemented hastily in the months ahead of the 2016 school year.
Earlier this year, another teacher at Liberty Hill made similar accusations after receiving life-altering injuries when he was assaulted by a student. In 2020, a math teacher at Daniel Jenkins filed a lawsuit against Coker and the district alleging a similar experience to Gordon.
Internal communications from another alternative school, this time Septima P. Clark Academy, revealed little effort was made by Coker to improve safety after a violent incident involving at least 10 students. The assistant principal of the school emailed Coker describing what she considered to be a “fight club” but Coker told her there were no additional resources that could be sent to the school.
Coker was also the direct supervisor of the principal at Clark who was recently terminated for inappropriate behavior.
In an email sent to staff on Thursday, Coker announced her resignation, effective Sept. 30.
“This decision was not an easy one, however after careful consideration and prayer I feel it is in my best interest to move forward with retirement now,” Coker said in the email. “While leaving is bittersweet, I do so with my head held high knowing that I positively touched the lives of thousands of students, families, teachers, leaders, and other CCSD employees. My greatest accomplishments outweigh the challenges and mishaps along the way, however, the biggest lessons were certainly embedded in the difficult times.”
Coker is the latest top-level employee to leave CCSD. In recently months, Chief Academic Officer Karolyn Belcher resigned, Chief of Staff Erica Taylor was fired, and the head of the facilities department, Ron Kramps, resigned. The departures coincide with Superintendent Don Kennedy’s sudden and unexpected promotion on June 27.
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