Ben Hill Co. superintendent controversy draws in hundreds of supporters
FITZGERALD, Ga. (WALB) - Hundreds of parents, teachers and community members showed up to a called board of education meeting Saturday regarding the controversy surrounding the interim superintendent.
Dawn Clements was the interim superintendent for 8 months. She recently resigned and retired after concerns over her sexuality.
According to residents, a man wrote a letter to local pastors. In the letter, the man said Clements was not qualified because she is “openly gay”.
WALB News 10′s Anthony Bordanaro reached out to the man who wrote the letter. His wife answered the phone and said that they didn’t expect the letter to get into so many hands. They didn’t want to comment further.
A special Board of Education meeting was called Saturday to vote on Clements’ resignation.
The board voted unanimously “no” to accept her resignation. That means the job is effectively hers if she’s willing to accept the position.
School board members said they will not be seeking an outside candidate. That would have cost the school system tens of thousands of dollars.
Around 200-250 people attended the special meeting Saturday afternoon.
“I’ve been working with her for 4 to 5 years. She is more than qualified,” Brittney Robinson, a Ben Hill County Schools employee said.
Kenyata Thorpe, a concerned parent, said Clements is an inspiration to all children.
“We are a family and we know she’s what’s best for the school system for children,” she said.
Beth McIntyre, a concerned Concerned Citizen, said she wasn’t surprised about the big turnout because of the woman Clements is.
“I’ve never seen anything like this ever but we were expecting this,” she said.
McIntyre said regardless of views of sexuality, the board had to vote in favor of Clements as superintendent. Clements has been in the school system for decades as a principal, athletic director, teacher, amongst others things.
“Everybody sins. If we’re talking about morals then we probably need to close down every school, every church, every business and we’ll just go back to caveman days,” McIntyre said.
Thorpe said Fitzgerald and South Georgia are part of the bible belt but it doesn’t mean opportunities have to be taken away.
“We are becoming a little bit more progressive. Not as fast as I hope we would, but I think things here are changing. And they are changing for the better,” Thorpe said.
Michelle Joiner, a former member of the school board, said sexuality or race was never a choice in any of their decision-making. She also tells me she knows Clements on a personal level.
“She’s a very strong person and she does not deserve any of this,” said Joiner.
Jeremy Cox, school board chairman, announced Clements’ resignation decision to the large crowd and many clapped loudly. That same crowd clapped just as loud when Cox resigned as chairman. He will still be a board member.
Shirley Brooks, the longest-tenured member of the Board, will serve as Chairman in his place.
Cox is also a pastor at a local church called Deberry Baptist. This was a concern amongst some who thought he might vote against Clements.
Neither Cox nor anyone on the board was willing to comment on his decision to resign. They did say that the Board is united in the decision and will be united going forward.
While Clements decides if she wants to take the position, there will be a placeholder in her position.
Copyright 2023 WALB. All rights reserved.