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Board says member should receive management, racial sensitivity training

With two lawsuits in play, tensions between Sherri Story and the rest of the Suffolk School Board and Superintendent Dr. John B. Gordon III continued as the board voted 6-1 authorizing board chairwoman Dr. Judith Brooks-Buck to arrange training for Story as recommended by an investigative report into the hostile work environment complaint filed by Gordon.

The resolution specified that the training Story is to receive concerns “the areas of management or leadership to include training relative to maintenance of confidentiality of certain School Board matters and racial sensitivity training as recommended in the investigative report.”

The investigation found Gordon’s allegations credible, though it said there was not enough evidence to support a “legally actionable” case based on race. It did find, though, that because Story disclosed publicly that Gordon was the person who had filed the complaint that it “creates at least some risk of an actionable retaliation claim.”

Story, who was the no vote, started to speak to the resolution, saying she was accused of two things — “of creating a hostile work environment for Gordon and that it was based on racial animus.”

“This investigation that the resolution refers to fully exonerated me from both allegations,” Story said. “In fact, the attorneys, after digging up and researching thousands of documents and emails, and all of my personnel files, and after the attorneys were paid handsomely to take hours and hours of testimony from 21 hand-chosen accusers to testify against me, the undisputed result was that the attorneys had to report that not one, not one, piece of actual evidence could be found to substantiate the two claims of this investigation.”

She said that if she had been allowed to have others testify on her behalf, that they would find that she has “never, ever said or written anything racist nor been involved in any conversations that would point towards me being labeled a racist in my personal life, in my professional life and in my spiritual life.”

Story stated that both Brooks-Buck and Riddick had called her a racist with “the intent of causing a person harm … to intimidate me…”

At that point, board member Tyron Riddick — who made the motion to approve the resolution — called for the question, and a vote immediately followed.

When Story voted no, she started to say that she believed that Riddick calling for the question was in violation of Robert’s Rules of Order and was out of order. However, Brooks-Buck stopped Story from speaking further and said her comments should be saved for the board comment period.

“Dr. Gordon, I have not created a hostile work environment for you in my opinion,” Story said during her comments. “I am one voice of seven. I am one vote of seven. You have been allowed by this board to take over the district and do whatever you would like when it comes to hiring. You have been given the privilege to spend money up to a legal limit. You have been given the authority, pretty much, to do what you want during this COVID, and I voted for some of that. This is not a hostile work environment.”

Gordon, reached shortly after the meeting, called Story’s comments inappropriate.

“Board member comments are supposed to acknowledge, inspire and motivate the students and staff of Suffolk Public Schools,” Gordon said. “Board member comments are not there for personal, fraudulent attacks on other board members and staff. And for 30 minutes, the entire school division was subjected to that from Ms. Story.”

Brooks-Buck, during her comment period, said she wanted to correct things Story had said previously. She said the report is online on the division’s website for people to read.

“The report does not say that everything was fine and nothing was found,” Brooks-Buck said. “It does not. The report on Mrs. Story says that there was harassment of an employee. When there is harassment of an employee, there is an obligation … that if an employee complains about being harassed, the board has an obligation to examine the facts. And that’s why, to the general public and to anybody who wants to know, that’s why the board had the obligation to examine the facts. That’s why we spent taxpayer money, because we had no choice but to spend money to investigate a claim of employment discrimination. That’s what we had to do.”

Brooks-Buck said that while the racial discrimination alleged by Gordon in the complaint did not meet the legal definition of being discrimination on the basis of race, “the recommendation that we have in the resolution that we made came directly from the report. We would not have made it had it not come from the report, so please understand very clearly that the steps that we are taking are based on the recommendations from the report. We did not make them up.”

Story filed another civil lawsuit Dec. 21 in Suffolk Circuit Court against the rest of the board, and a hearing on it scheduled for Jan. 12 was continued until Feb. 8.

Her first lawsuit against the board, in which she alleged multiple Freedom of Information Act violations against it, is being appealed by the board to the state Supreme Court after a Suffolk Circuit Court judge found that the board and the majority of its members violated the act with regard to meeting notices, vague closed-meeting motions and certifications of closed meetings.