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Rat woes exposed in closed meeting treated as personnel issue

A few eyebrows were raised Monday night when Halifax County School Board Chairman Kim Farson said trustees had discussed the rat droppings incident at Halifax County Middle School behind closed doors following a school board meeting in July. 

Since that subject does not fall into an allowed category for closed session discussion, The Gazette-Virginian questioned Farson this week on how school board members justified discussing the matter behind closed doors.

According to Farson, the discussion involved much more than rodent droppings including personnel issues, so acting on the advice of the school board attorney, they treated the issue as they would a personnel matter.

 “When Mrs. Emma Sims came to the board in July with the incident, she also requested a grievance procedure after her contract was not renewed. Being that she was classified personnel rather than certified personnel, we explained that was not within her rights.” 

However, Farson said the board did not dismiss Sims’ allegations of rat droppings in the middle school cafeteria, and each board member voiced concern.

 “And by no means was it taken lightly,” the chairman added.

The board proceeded by asking that a thorough investigation be conducted. 

Following the investigation, a report was given to the board containing employees’ statements about the February day in question. 

 “When reviewing the report, we felt that not only did we have to protect Emma Sims but also the other employees who had provided statements,” said Farson further explaining why the discussion was handled as a personnel matter. 

According to Farson, the report provided did not confirm all of Sims’ allegations. The report did, however, confirm rat droppings were found in the middle school cafeteria at that time, and that proper procedures and protocol had been followed to handle the situation. 

In hindsight, Farson said she realizes the board could have prepared a statement in July stating the rat droppings incident had occurred and had been handled. 

“However, our lawyer had advised us to let it go,” she said, so the school board opted to follow his advice.

The chairman said she feels the board did their job by asking for the investigation. 

She concluded, “We did not go into executive session to discuss the alleged rat droppings incident in itself but statements provided by personnel that were private.”