NHCS orders internal investigation into claim schools knew about sex crimes against students

Updated: Jul. 10, 2019 at 7:12 PM EDT
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - New Hanover County Schools voted Tuesday to hire an independent investigator to look into allegations the school district knew about suspected sex crimes against students.

Former teacher of the year Michael Kelly pleaded guilty to dozens of sex crimes involving students in June.

During Kelly’s plea hearing, allegations came to light that school administrators were aware of claims Kelly was abusing his students and failed to report the matter to law enforcement.

New Hanover County District Attorney Ben David confirmed the day after Kelly was sentenced that a criminal investigation is underway. In North Carolina, it is a misdemeanor for public employees to fail to report suspicions or allegations of child abuse to law enforcement.

According to New Hanover County Schools, the board of education voted in open session Tuesday to hire Brooks Pierce Law Firm to conduct an independent investigation into how the district handled allegations involving the former teacher.

The board voted unanimously after David Wortman made the motion.

“Now that the criminal investigation of Mr. Kelly has been completed, the Board is prepared to examine its past practices and history, most of which pre-dates the current board members’ service,” the press release from New Hanover County Schools said.

Education attorney Jill Wilson and former federal prosecutor Shana Fulton are among the team members working on the investigation.

“The Board felt that there was value in getting an objective, thorough look at our practices and procedures and an understanding of what happened in the past so that we can assure appropriate practices and policies are in place in the future. We value and treasure our students and want the public to know that we take most seriously our commitment to act in their best interests," Board Chair Lisa Estep commented in the press release.

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