Education

Report: Employees allege Chester superintendent threatened, ‘I will kill you’

Chester County schools Superintendent Agnes Slayman at a school board meeting Thursday night.
Chester County schools Superintendent Agnes Slayman at a school board meeting Thursday night. Special to The Herald

Chester County schools Superintendent Agnes Slayman has threatened to kill district employees and has “created a hostile work environment,” prompting more than half of the district’s senior staff to seek medical attention for stress-related health issues and depression, the employees allege in an investigative report provided to the school board this month and obtained by The Herald on Thursday.

Slayman’s attorney, J. Lewis Cromer of Columbia, told The Herald on Thursday that Slayman denies those claims, and specifically she “emphatically denies that she’s ever seriously threatened to kill anybody.” He said Slayman has never had the intent to harm anyone.

He said Slayman’s leave of absence earlier this month was taken at the request of school board Chairwoman Denise Lawson – and perhaps the entire board – to allow the district to look into the employee allegations.

The Herald obtained a copy of an investigative report that describes employee allegations against Slayman, written by Betty Bagley, a retired public school superintendent and current adjunct instructor at Anderson University. Sources with knowledge of the Chester County school district provided the newspaper a copy of the report, on the condition of anonymity. Bagley is not the Chester City Councilwoman by the same name.

Earlier this month, The Herald requested a copy of Bagley’s report from school officials. As of Thursday afternoon, the district had not provided the newspaper with the report.

According to Bagley’s report, district employees claimed Slayman:

▪ Told an employee, “I will cut your throat out if you ever speak to the board again.”

▪ Made “threatening remarks,” including telling a staff member, “I will kill you,” and “will cut your legs off.”

▪ Said she was “going to kill” a Chester board member.

▪ Acted “spiteful, vengeful, mean, cruel, vicious ... insensitive, paranoid, moody, divisive, and hostile.”

▪ Employed a leadership style that was “selfish, vindictive, cruel and bullying.”

▪ Has “good ideas” but implements plans in an effort to be “the first to do something without fully investigating.”

▪ Sent “terse emails” that made her staff cry.

▪ Discussed the job performance and employment of staff members with other employees.

▪ Asked district employees to “lie to the board about the security officer issue.”

Bagley told The Herald on Thursday she could not comment about her report.

In a statement provided by Cromer, Slayman declined to comment on the allegations.

“In the meantime,” she said, “I want the teachers, parents, and students of this school district to know that their education and their well-being are foremost in my mind, as they always have been during my tenure as superintendent and will continue to be as long as I hold this office.

“I sincerely regret not only the inconvenience but the confusion that these actions have caused, and I look forward to a quick and positive resolution so that all of us can get back to the job of giving our children a first-class education.”

Cromer said all discussions about the Bagley report and the report itself have taken place in private during executive sessions of the school board, and he is not able to comment in-depth.

He said he and Slayman do not have access to employee medical records that would reveal whether any employees have needed medical care as a result of the alleged work environment they described to Bagley. Slayman has done nothing as superintendent, Cromer said, that he believes would cause that reaction or the need for employees to seek medical attention.

“We don’t believe there’s any substance behind the claims,” he said, speaking of the report generally.

Bagley concluded in the report provided to The Herald that employees “accurately explained and described their work environment.”

“The hostile environment has escalated over the past 2 years,” the report states.

Bagley wrote that she believes school district employees’ “health has been adversely affected as a result of the harassing, intimidating and hostile work environment.” She also warned of “possible serious legal ramifications” for the district in reference to what Bagley described as “the superintendent’s ongoing conduct and pattern of comments.”

Employees, according to Bagley’s report, have considered “legal action.”

Cromer said there’s no need for any school board action to impede Slayman’s ability to do her job as superintendent. Her job performance in Chester, he said, has been “one of progress and positive results.”

Slayman’s management style, he said, is driven by objectives and meeting those goals – not “people pleasing.”

“She might be more Carly Fiorina than Joe Biden,” Cromer said, adding that she doesn’t threaten people but leads them by speaking up about expectations on the job.

Cromer says Slayman’s recent leave is not related, as far as he knows, to a state Department of Education investigation into alleged grade tampering, reported by The Herald last week. He also said her leave of absence is not related, to his knowledge, to parents’ concerns about security – stemming from the school district’s decision earlier this year to replace sheriff’s deputies with private security guards on school grounds.

School board members met in closed session for several hours Thursday, and were not available to comment for this story.

Chester superintendent’s statement

Here is the full text of Superintendent Agnes Slayman’s statement, provided by her attorney:

“I cannot and will not make any statement at this time until there is some resolution of ongoing issues being discussed with the school board. At that time, there will be a forthright and full response by myself or my attorneys, J. Lewis Cromer and Associates of Columbia, South Carolina, to many of the allegations that are floating around. In the meantime, I want the teachers, parents, and students of this school district to know that their education and their wellbeing are foremost in my mind, as they always have been during my tenure as superintendent and will continue to be as long as I hold this office.

“I sincerely regret not only the inconvenience but the confusion that these actions have caused, and I look forward to a quick and positive resolution so that all of us can get back to the job of giving our children a first-class education.”

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