Summerville man barred from Dorchester 2 meetings, schools

Rosen Hagood October 10, 2007

By Mindy B. Hagen
The Post and Courier
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
SUMMERVILLE — The Dorchester District 2 school board has banned an outspoken critic from attending meetings or visiting schools without prior permission, and the district’s attorney has informed the man he could be arrested for trespassing if he fails to follow the order.
But at least one outside lawyer questioned whether school district officials have the power to ban community members from public buildings, such as the school district office. The school board is able to remove a disruptive audience member from a meeting, but can’t prevent a person from showing up in the first place, said Jay Bender, an attorney for the South Carolina Press Association.
“I don’t think banishment is within the power of the school board,” Bender said.
Bender said he could not recall another case in the state in which a local government agency had restricted a community member from entering public property.
Summerville resident Dan Norfleet, a frequent opponent of district initiatives, said he thinks the school board’s action is retaliatory.
Norfleet is the parent of a Summerville High student and has another child who graduated from Summerville.
In the past, Norfleet has sent scores of e-mails to state and federal agencies questioning district procedures, has constantly called district officials and accused them of mismanaging district operations and previously has been instructed to refrain from contacting school board members at home with his complaints.
The discord between Norfleet and district officials grew even more heated at a meeting two weeks ago. Audience members speaking during the meeting’s public comment period are not allowed to name specific district employees during their complaints, according to a policy designed to protect employees and followed by many school districts.
But Norfleet used his speaking time to rail against Assistant Superintendent Barbara Stroble, repeatedly calling out her name. Board members, especially Bill Reeves, told him he was out of line and yelled at him to sit down.
Norfleet’s exchange with Reeves continued outside immediately following the Sept. 24 meeting. According to a letter from district attorney Alice Paylor to Norfleet, dated Oct. 1, he “continued to have strong words with a Board member and to behave in an extremely bizarre and inappropriate manner. Various persons reported that your affect was not normal, that you were disheveled in appearance and appeared to be deranged and that they feared for their personal safety while in your presence.”
Norfleet said he rode his bicycle to the meeting, resulting in his “disheveled” appearance. He maintains that he broke the policy while mentioning Stroble’s name but said what happened after the meeting was not his fault. Norfleet said Reeves should be blamed for the verbal altercation.
“Mr. Reeves approached me, cursed me, repeatedly insulted me and used vulgar language to describe me,” Norfleet said.
Reeves said the rest of the school board agreed that Norfleet’s comments were out of line.
“We did have some words as we walked out the door,” Reeves said. “He was out of order. Lots of people were concerned about what he might do.”
School board Chairman Bo Blanton said people shouldn’t think the board is trying to clamp down on dissenting views based on the Norfleet situation. “He has crossed the line numerous times,” Blanton said. “There is a history there. We are acting in the best interest of our district employees and others who attend these meetings.”
Paylor’s letter tells Norfleet he cannot enter district property without receiving permission.
Norfleet did not attend Monday night’s school board meeting, but a Summerville police officer was stationed outside the room in case he tried to enter.
Norfleet said the threat of being arrested for trespassing would not keep him from attending future meetings. The next Dorchester District 2 board meeting is Oct. 22.