GEORGE COUNTY, Miss. (WKRG) – The George County School District (GCSD) will not be allowed to ban two new school board members from meetings about a lawsuit against the district, a judge said on Wednesday, Jan. 11.

The order, issued by Magistrate Judge Robert Myers, Jr. in the Gulfport federal courthouse, denies a Dec. 9 motion by GCSD in a lawsuit filed by former superintendent Pam Touchard.

She alleges the district’s board of education discriminated against her by denying her any employment opportunity after her term as superintendent ended and other retaliatory measures after she reported staff-sanctioned cheating to the state in 2019.

Attorneys for the school district sought to ban Maria Clanton and Matthew Smith from executive sessions in school board meetings that discussed the lawsuit. The pair was elected last November and took office Jan. 5.

Judge Myers’ order says it did not appear school board attorney Cherie Rivera Wade, superintendent Wade Whitney, board president Barkley Henderson or anyone representing GCSD ever notified Clanton and Smith of its intention to ban them from meetings before the district filed the motion.

The motion said Smith is a “known personal friend of Touchard,” a claim he denied. Clanton, a former GCSD teacher and administrator, is on a list of potential witnesses for Touchard. 

GCSD said the pair’s presence in school board discussions of the lawsuit would “provide a direct pipeline to Plaintiff [Touchard] of privileged discussions held by the defendant [GCSD], as if Plaintiff herself or her attorney were sitting in on the discussions,” and break attorney client privilege.

In response, Touchard’s attorneys told the court: “Plaintiff cannot be silent as defense counsel seeks to deprive the citizens of George County of their right to vote by excluding their duly-elected school board members from participating in official business. Ironically, by presenting this Motion to the Court, defense counsel has highlighted the problematic behavior of the Defendant – attempting to silence voices that may disagree with the wrongful conduct of certain members of the George County School Board – that led to the filing of this action.”

The judge’s order to deny GCSD’s request says the district failed to provide any legal precedent or school board policy that would allow the school board members to be banned from the executive sessions.

The lawsuit is scheduled to go to a jury trial in November.