Open Letter

Dear Jan Hammond,

I am writing to respond to two items included in a column or letter to the editor that you wrote for The New Irmo News, which was posted online. The article was in response to a column by David Travis Bland of The State.

The first item is Bland’s name. He is David Travis Bland.

The second item is the assertion The State did not report that Lexington Richland Five’s accrediting agency never acted on a complaint filed by Stephen Hefner and others. You wrote: “You be the judge. It appears to be a smear campaign.”

The State Media Co. has reported at least four times that Cognia was not going to act on the complaint.
We initially reported that information in December 2021. Here’s one quote from that story.

“We received the complaint, we acknowledged it to the complainant, and at this time no action is planned,” said Mariama Tyler, a Cognia spokesperson, when contacted by The State.

On December 14, The State reported the school board had voted to continue its lawsuit against Mr. Hefner. In that story, we noted our earlier reporting on Cognia’s decision to not take action. The story included this quote from board member Matt Hogan.

“With that complaint, there were a lot of unknowns,” Hogan said. “What would happen to our accreditation? What would it cost the district? That motion was brought before we truly knew the facts. And the fact is there was no investigation, there was no legal cost to the district, there was no representation that we had to get.”

The story also quoted board vice-chair Ken Loveless.

“If that situation had prevailed, that’s one of five things where the state of South Carolina can take over a school district,” Loveless said. “All we are asking for is a formal apology.”

In our story last week reporting on the board’s decision to drop the lawsuit filed against Mr. Hefner, we reminded readers again about Cognia’s decision.

Here’s the key paragraph from that story:

A representative from Cognia told The State last November that the agency would not take action against the school district in response to Hefner’s complaint, saying it found “no grounds to justify further actions” according to its policies and procedures and the issue raised would not affect the district’s accreditation.

Here’s also a quote from Mr. Loveless in that story:

School board vice chair Ken Loveless said that when Lexington-Richland 5 authorized the lawsuit, Hefner had “attacked our accreditation by sending an unfounded complaint” to Cognia, the district’s accrediting agency. “Since then, Cognia has not taken action and has said they will not take action,” meaning district resources dedicated to the lawsuit can be better spent elsewhere, Loveless said.

Finally, Bland’s column that apparently resulted in your column in The New Irmo News also reported on Cognia’s decision.

If a board knows it took all the proper steps in the hiring, it should let the complaint process play out. In the end, a board that did right would be vindicated. In fact, that’s what happened as Cognia, the agency that accredits the school district, decided to take no action.

I argue we have published on at least four occasions Cognia decided not to act on Mr. Hefner’s complaint. But I will acknowledge an oversight on our part. We apparently did not publish in our print editions Bristow Marchant’s story from last December that initially reported Cognia’s decision to take no action. Arranging for those stories to be published in print is my responsibility, not Bristow’s. And I clearly goofed.

That said, we appropriately place a lot of emphasis on our digital products. They all have large audiences. I argue that the vast majority of our readers would have seen the three stories and Bland’s column with that information.

Your assertion about a smear campaign is, in my opinion, a fair comment. So was Bland’s column. I know your comment to be false. Still, I respect your right to make it.

I invite you to reach out to me or my editor, Brian Tolley, with any concerns about our reporting. We may not agree, but we’re always open to discussing what we do.

Paul Osmundson