WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - Superintendent Dr. Tim Markley has been suspended without pay after the school board found he violated district policy when he tried to silence a professor at UNCW over criticisms of how the school board handled a Spanish immersion class at Forest Hill Elementary School.
According to an email from Valita Quattlebaum, chief communications officer for New Hanover County Schools (NHCS), the board of education suspended Markley without pay for five days, to be served on five consecutive Wednesdays beginning on Nov. 6.
Markley and Dr. Clyde Edgerton had been in a very public spat over NHCS’ handling of a Spanish immersion program at Forest Hills Elementary School several years ago. Edgerton says the schools were discriminating against students of color who may have been interested in the program, but were not able to participate because the school system advertised the Spanish immersion program and filled it to capacity almost exclusively with white students.
In an interview, Edgerton said he believes the punishment should have been stricter.
“I think he deserves to be fired,” Edgerton said.
He hopes this result will inspire others to speak up if they see injustice.
“For now, I’m happy that the board has taken this matter into their hands and acted in a way that I believe would not have happened a few years ago," Edgerton said. "So, I am satisfied. I’m satisfied about that and I’m encouraged that students and employees, parents and teachers can find a reason and courage and a lack of fear to speak out especially with a written complaint.”
Recent developments with the arrest and conviction of Mike Kelly, a high school science teacher employed by NHCS, for dozens of sex crimes with his students spanning more than a decade, has reignited many concerns parents have had with the school system over the years. Some of those parents, including Edgerton, have openly called for an independent investigation of New Hanover County Schools for months.
Markley also publicly responded to Edgerton’s renewed concerns over various perceived shortcomings of New Hanover County Schools in an op-ed in the Wilmington Star-News.
WECT confirmed Markley contacted UNCW to express concerns about their employee, Edgerton.
Edgerton filed a complaint on Aug. 9 with the school system, saying Markley contacted UNCW and in the complaint, wrote, "Intimidation and attempted abridgment of free speech by NHCS Superintendent Tim Markley through his speaking to one or more of my superiors at my place of employment regarding my protected speech and my advocacy actions on behalf of NHCS students, concerned parents, and North Carolina citizens.”
Edgerton wrote his desired outcome is that Markley be “fired or asked to resign effective immediately.”
The board of education investigated Edgerton’s claims and found evidence Markley had violated board policy by contacting Edgerton’s employer to “discuss the exercise of Dr. Edgerton’s speech rights.”
“The investigation did not find that there was, in fact, any evidence that Dr. Edgerton’s speech rights were actually impacted by the contact,” a document detailing the board’s findings states.
While certain types of personnel action are public information, state law typically prevents the release of additional details about those actions. Markley consented to the release of this information, according to Quattlebaum.