Lawsuit Against Spotsylvania School Board Can Move Forward With Amendments

Photo by Tingey Injury Law Firm on Unsplash

By Amie Knowles

October 18, 2022

Student advocate Makaila Keyes filed a lawsuit against the Spotsylvania County School Board in March for alleged violations of her rights under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

A point of contention that began with a Jan. 10 Spotsylvania County School Board meeting gained new traction nine months later. On Oct. 12, a Circuit Court judge overturned the dismissal of a lawsuit in which a 2020 Courtland High School graduate claimed a violation of rights. 

Student advocate Makaila Keyes, who currently attends Virginia Commonwealth University, announced plans in March to file a lawsuit against the Spotsylvania County School Board for alleged violations of her rights under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

In a YouTube video, Keyes expressed concern over issues like book banning and faculty, staff, and student retention. Keyes noted that she sought donations for an independent legal investigation for FOIA violations, employment law violations, and educational law violations. 

While originally dismissed by the Spotsylvania General District Court in July, the recent Circuit Court judge’s decision breathed new life into the lawsuit. 

According to court proceeding coverage by The Free Lance-Star, Keyes’ attorney referenced the Virginia Code in section 2.2-3700, which states: “All public records and meetings shall be presumed open, unless an exemption is properly invoked.”

At the Jan. 10 meeting, which resulted in the firing of former Spotsylvania County Public Schools (SCPS) Superintendent Scott Baker without cause, the board went into closed session—but did so without first holding a public vote to enter into the session. While Keyes claims an exemption of rights and privileges for that reason, the school board’s attorney said that the closed meeting was exempt from FOIA due to a discussion of personnel.

With some amendments, it appears Keyes’ claim will move forward. 

The Incoming Superintendent 

The lawsuit surrounding the meeting featuring Baker’s termination isn’t the only superintendent buzz taking place in the area. 

In September, Mark Taylor—a former Greene County administrator with no experience in public education—signed a contact with the Spotsylvania County School Board. In it, he agreed to a $245,000 salary per year, a $30,000 increase over Baker. 

Beyond the base salary, the local paper highlighted notable differences between the incoming superintendent and the former superintendent, including a clause in the contract about the leader’s pay following a termination.

While Baker’s contract ensured compensation, salary, and benefits for the lesser of one year or until June 30, 2024 following termination without cause, Taylor’s contract far exceeds the former. If Taylor’s time ends without cause before his contract does, he will receive three years and eight months of full pay.

Taylor will also receive health insurance retiree benefits regardless of time worked. To put that into perspective, SCPS employees don’t qualify for health insurance retiree benefits unless they’ve worked for the school system for a minimum of 15 years prior to retirement. 

In a letter to the school board obtained by NBC Washington, Taylor’s estranged daughter, Jael Taylor, spoke out against hiring her father for the superintendent position. In the letter, she claimed that her parents were “transphobic,” “homophobic,” and “casually, carelessly, and almost unintentionally racist.” Jael alleged that her parents treated her with verbal aggression when they learn that she was bisexual.

As a homeschool student where her father essentially served as the teacher, principal, school board, and superintendent, Jael told the news station that she wouldn’t feel comfortable “vouching for him to do that for other children.” 

Mark Taylor will begin his position as the new superintendent of Spotsylvania County Public Schools on Nov. 1.

  • Amie Knowles

    Amie is Dogwood's community editor. She has been in journalism for several years, winning multiple awards from the Virginia Press Association for news and features content. A lifelong Virginia resident, her work has appeared in the Martinsville Bulletin, Danville Register & Bee and NWNC Magazine.

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