NEW HANOVER COUNTY, NC (WECT) - Silence, intimidation and conspiracies covered up unethical, and possibly illegal, behavior, according to a new report slamming how the school system in New Hanover County handled alleged cases of sexual misconduct and racial discrimination.
A representative with the Southern Coalition for Equal Protections Under the Law wrote the report along with people who filed reports against the school system, and presented the report to the school board Wednesday night. The coalition is representing the students, parents and people who have filed those reports. The representative requested an independent investigation looking into the reports.
The report details six cases over the past 15 years. The first report alleges administrators “hid evidence of racial discrimination in an enrollment program” in 2015 and 2016. This case involved a kindergarten Spanish immersion enrollment program at Forest Hills Elementary School.
The report says there was no African-American student representation among the program’s 40 spots. Parents filed complaints, but the report said those complaints were never heard by the school board.
It also said a “final remedy offered by the administration … failed to address the complaint of the documented racial discrimination.”
It goes on to say the deputy superintendent in charge of student services investigated even though his office also oversaw the program. The administration allegedly claimed the problem was fixed, and “the principal alone was responsible.” The report claims this is not true, and that others were involved.
Clyde Edgerton was one of the parents who filed a complaint. He said an independent investigation is necessary to police the school system, which he claims has been policing itself. He also said he thinks the newly elected school board members will agree to the proposed investigation.
”I think wrongs can be righted with a board that is interested in looking back a few years, and also to look forward to be in charge of a system that is fair to all students, all teachers, all employees," Edgerton said. “I think there are things that have happened that parents and employees know about, but the public doesn’t know about and I believe an impartial investigation is something no administrator should be worried about if there’s nothing to hide.”
The second case details an employee who voiced concerns about the racial discrimination detailed in case one. The report says her complaints were “blocked from being officially heard by any official or board member.”
Case three claims administrators protected the “perpetrator” of a sexual assault at a county high school, but not the victim. It goes on to say administrators blamed the victim, and proposed the victim transfer to an in-school suspension.
According to the report, members of the victim’s family were “bullied and harassed” after speaking up for the victim, and against the school system.
The report also mentions administrators continuously sweeping cases of employees' sexual misconduct under the rug to not draw “public scrutiny." The most recent case, the report notes in case four, is of Michael Kelly, a teacher at Isaac Bear Early College High School. He’s facing more than 50 charges ranging from indecent liberties with a child to sexual exploitation of a minor.
An employee with the school system allegedly texted a student about the size of his genitals, which is detailed in the fifth case. The report said administrators learned about this, but the employee was not fired and instead allowed to resign to “protect his ability to secure employment with another school system." According to the report, this employee later was charged with raping a child.
The sixth case talks about a teacher asking the assistant superintendent for human resources for a letter of recommendation in 2009. This teacher had two previous letters of concern with the school system about “intimacies with a student,” according to the report.
The report says the teacher was allowed to resign, got a job in Pitt County and was charged with statutory rape.
“Clear patterns of abuse of power” by administrators have put the safety of students at risk, the report claims. The coalition demands apologies from administrators.
Some of the new school board members support the calls for an independent investigation.
“We’ve got great students, great teachers, great resources. ... We have wonderful staff. There’s wonderful staff at all levels and this isn’t fair to them," newly sworn in school board member Judy Justice said. “If there’s nothing to hide, then there shouldn’t be a problem with an investigation from an outside source. Anybody that would resist that, you would wonder why because why are you hiding things?"
WECT asked school leaders about the report. They had no comment.