In The Court of Appeals

Curtis Shell,        Respondent,


Richland County School District One,        Appellant.

Appeal From Richland County
G. Thomas Cooper, Jr., Circuit Court Judge

Unpublished Opinion No. 2003-UP-503
Heard April 8, 2003 – Filed August 27, 2003


Andrea E. White and Charles J. Boykin, of Columbia, for Appellant.

W. Allen Nickles, III, Carl L. Solomon, and Dona L. Guffey, of Columbia, for Respondent.

PER CURIAM:  The Richland County School District One Board of Commissioners (“the Board”) terminated Curtis Shell’s teaching contract pursuant to South Carolina Code Annotated section 59-25-430 (1990).  Shell appealed the Board’s decision to the circuit court.  The circuit court reversed the Board’s decision and ordered the Board to reinstate Shell, ruling sufficient evidence did not exist to support the Board’s decision.  The Board appeals.  We reverse.


Shell was a teacher at Carver Lyon Elementary School (“Carver”).  In 2000, Shell was arrested for attempted possession of crack cocaine.  Shell was placed on administrative leave pending the resolution of the charges against him.  Subsequently, Ronald Epps, the school superintendent, notified Shell he was recommending to the Board that they terminate Shell’s employment pursuant to South Carolina Code Annotated section 59-25-430 because Shell demonstrated an evident unfitness to teach.  Subsequently, the solicitor dismissed the charges against Shell. 

The Board approved Epps’ recommendation to terminate Shell’s employment, finding Shell’s conduct demonstrated evident unfitness to teach.  Shell appealed to the circuit court.  The circuit court reversed the Board, holding substantial evidence did not exist to support its finding Shell was unfit to teach.  The Board appeals.


The Board argues the circuit court erred by reversing its decision because sufficient evidence exists in the record to support the Board’s finding Shell is unfit to teach.  We agree. 

“Judicial review of a school board decision terminating a teacher is limited to a determination whether it is supported by substantial evidence.”  Felder v. Charleston County Sch. Dist., 327 S.C. 21, 25, 489 S.E.2d 191, 193 (1997); see McWhirter v. Cherokee County Sch. Dist. No. 1, 274 S.C. 66, 68, 261 S.E.2d 157, 158 (1979) (“[I]f any of the charges against a teacher are supported by substantial evidence, the school board’s decision to dismiss must be sustained.”); Barrett v. Charleston County Sch. Dist., 348 S.C. 426, 432, 559 S.E.2d 365, 368 (Ct. App. 2001) (holding the reviewing court cannot substitute its own judgment for that of the Board).  “‘Substantial evidence’ is not a mere scintilla of evidence nor the evidence viewed blindly from one side of the case, but is evidence which, considering the record as a whole, would allow reasonable minds to reach the conclusion that the . . . [Board] reached or must have reached in order to justify its action.”  Laws v. Richland County Sch. Dist. No.1, 270 S.C. 492, 495-96, 243 S.E.2d 192, 193 (1978)).

Section 59-25-430 provides that a teacher “may be dismissed at any time who shall . . . manifest an evident unfitness for             teaching . . . [through conduct] such as, but not limited to, the following: . . . conviction of a violation of the law of this State or the United States, gross immorality, dishonesty, illegal use, sale or possession of drugs or narcotics . . . .”  (emphasis added).

Section 59-25-430 does not enumerate all the reasons a teacher’s employment may be terminated in South Carolina.  See S.C. Code Ann. § 59-25-430; Hall v. Board of Trs. of Sumter County Sch. Dist. No. 2, 330 S.C. 402, 406, 499 S.E.2d 216, 218 (Ct. App. 1998).  Rather, recognizing the importance of school board’s exercise of discretion, the Legislature created a broad basis upon which a teacher may be terminated.  As such, the touchstone for dismissal pursuant to section 59-25-430 is conduct evincing unfitness to teach. 

The evidence before the Board indicates that in 1988, Shell was arrested for possession of crack cocaine when a car in which he was a passenger was stopped and crack cocaine was found on the floor wrapped in one of his personal checks.  The evidence also indicates that when the school administration initially questioned Shell about the event, Shell was dishonest about it. 

Shell was placed on administrative leave pending resolution of the charges against him.  The solicitor subsequently dismissed the charges, and Shell was reinstated. [1]  

In 2000, Shell hired Bernie Lee Thomas to perform work on his house.  Shell had known Thomas for over twenty years.  Shell offered to take Thomas home, and upon Thomas’ request, Shell stopped at a house across the highway from Thomas’ house in an area of West Columbia known to be drug-infested.  Shell testified he remained in the vehicle while Thomas went to visit a friend.  When Thomas returned to the vehicle, police officers arrested Thomas for possession of crack cocaine and Shell for attempted possession of crack cocaine.

According to school officials, Shell’s 2000 arrest was reported on a local television station and caused negative, distracting, discussion of the event among teachers, parents, and students, which was disruptive to the school. [2]   Additionally, Carver’s principal testified she believed the publicity, coupled with the negative repercussions, undermined Shell’s ability to be an effective teacher.  Moreover, she testified she did not believe allowing Shell to teach was in the best interest of the students. 

Viewing the record as a whole, we conclude this evidence supports the Board’s finding Shell is unfit to teach.  Shell was arrested twice for incidents related to crack cocaine.  On both instances, he was intimately associated with individuals who at the very least did possess crack cocaine in his presence.  This evidence, combined with the fact that Shell is a role model for young students, his 2000 arrest was televised, and his principal testified that his return would not be in the best interest of the students, provides sufficient evidence to support the Board’s finding Shell is unfit to teach.  See Feagin v. Everett, 652 S.W.2d 839, 843 (Ark. Ct. App. 1983) (holding evidence a teacher was arrested for marijuana was sufficient to support a finding the teacher was unfit to teach, where the arrest resulted in local publicity); see also Brown v. Board of Educ. of Topeka, Shawnee County, Kansas, 347 U.S. 483, 493 (1954) (“[E]ducation is perhaps the most important function of state and local governments. . . . [I]t is a principal instrument in awakening the child to cultural values, in preparing him for later professional training, and in helping him to adjust normally to his environment.”); Rogliano v. Fayette County Bd. of Educ., 347 S.E.2d 220, 226 (W.V. 1986) (C. J. Neely, dissenting) (stating teachers in public school systems are more than guides to instruction and knowledge, they are role models for societal and cultural values).


Based on the foregoing, the order of the circuit court is reversed and the decision of the Board is reinstated.


CURETON, STILWELL, and HOWARD, JJ., concurring.

[1] At trial, Shell argued evidence regarding his previous arrest in 1988 was inadmissible pursuant to South Carolina Rules of Evidence, Rule 404.  However, this issue was not ruled on by the circuit court.  Thus, it is not preserved for appellate review.  See Great Games, Inc. v. South Carolina Dep’t of Revenue, 339 S.C. 79, 85, 529 S.E.2d 6, 9 (2000) (holding issues not raised to and ruled on by the lower court are not preserved for appellate review).

[2] The charges against Shell were subsequently dropped when Thomas pled to the charges against him and accepted responsibility for the incident.