Parent refiles retaliation complaint following superintendent’s suspension

Updated: Oct. 10, 2019 at 3:27 PM EDT
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - The parent of a former Hoggard High School student has refiled a retaliation complaint with the New Hanover County School (NHCS) Board. This comes just days after the school board suspended Superintendent Tim Markley for retaliating against another parent, Dr. Clyde Edgerton, in an unrelated incident.

The parent who just refiled the complaint has asked not to be named because his daughter was the victim of a sexual assault by another student, which prompted the parent’s interactions with school administrators several years ago. Additionally, this parent is employed as a New Hanover County Sheriff’s deputy, and says the retaliation by the schools against him has and continues to jeopardize his employment.

“I still feel threatened. I still feel uncomfortable. I still feel as though there is always still that possibility that I may for false accusations be fired. I may be fired for simply advocating for what’s right,” the parent told WECT. Because deputies work at the pleasure of the sheriff in North Carolina, they have less job protection than those in many other fields.

Dr. Edgerton, for example, is a tenured professor at UNCW, and could not have been terminated over his dispute with NHCS. He complained that Superintendent Markley called his supervisors at UNCW in an attempt to intimidate and silence him. Markley admitted reaching out to UNCW to discuss Dr. Edgerton, but disputed the motive of the phone call. The school board ultimately decided Markley’s actions were inappropriate and suspended him for 5 days without pay.

That suspension prompted the parent, who had a dispute with NHCS four years ago, to refile his original retaliation complaint with the school board this week.

That parent went to the Ashley High School campus, where the student who assaulted his daughter had transferred, to protest that the school allowed the student to participate in school athletics within a week of pleading guilty to the assault. That meant that when Ashley was playing Hoggard, this student would be in the same location as his daughter if she was also in attendance. When questioned about this by news media, Rick Holliday, who was deputy superintendent at the time, told WECT the schools did not have to comply with the court order.

After the parent went to school to voice his concerns, he says Superintendent Tim Markley contacted his supervisors at the sheriff’s office to complain. Among other reasons, he complained the deputy was in uniform when he came to complain about his daughter’s situation.

According to documentation the deputy shared with us from his personnel file, he received a written reprimand over the incident which notes that the superintendent had called New Hanover County Sheriff Ed McMahon to report him. The reprimand reads in part, “According to the Superintendent, [the deputy] offended the Athletic Director and Principal of Ashley High School, by his actions and demeanor.” The reprimand goes on to say that the deputy was “ordered not to make any contact with any school regarding the personal issues involving his daughter.”

The deputy also gave us a copy of a separate email Holliday sent to a sheriff’s lieutenant five days after that written reprimand, referencing more concerns about this parent.

“I have been in communication with the Sheriff about this. I fear that this gentleman is not stable. Just needed to let y’all know,” Holliday wrote to a lieutenant at the sheriff’s office. That email stemmed from a second incident where the student who perpetrated the sexual assault was allowed to participate in a basketball tournament the assault victim was also attending. The parents went to school officials to challenge his presence at the tournament.

“I was accused of being mentally unstable,” the parent explained to WECT, saying the administrators’ actions contacting his supervisors on multiple occasions were a direct threat to his livelihood as a law enforcement officer who carries a weapon. He says the only reason he was able to keep his job was the fact he was able to prove the allegations were lies.

Among other things, the deputy said he had to take a lie detector test and a psychiatric evaluation to prove he was still fit for duty after school administrators said he was “unstable.” He says he passed both and remains on the job, but this has put him and his supervisors in an uncomfortable situation.

Moreover, the parent says the concerns over his daughter’s well-being were completely lost, and the focus of school administrators instead shifted to silencing him. He said if administrators had truly felt threatened, they should have filed a police report, not called his supervisors.

“They don’t want you to advocate for what’s right, especially if it’s something that they think is going to make them look bad. So when you do that, you become the bad guy. You become the person who’s coming in there and causing problems. I’m not the only parent that they’ve done this to, I just happen to be the one parent that wants to stand up and fight for their kid,” the deputy said.

The deputy filed a retaliation complaint with the schools in 2017, according to a copy of the document he gave us. Under nature of the problem, he listed “harassment, bullying, intimidation, threats and retaliation.” He said he had “made multiple attempts to resolve this matter through every level of the administration” and was requesting an independent investigation.

He showed us a copy of a letter he’d later received from Dr. Markley, which said they were declining to initiate an investigation because the parent had filed a separate complaint with the federal Office of Civil Rights detailing his concerns. “At this time, I will await the outcome of the OCR investigation,” Markley concluded.

The parent was concerned Markley appeared to block an investigation that would have looked into his own conduct in the matter. The parent feels the school board should investigate the alleged retaliation issues and not wait on the results of the federal investigation, which has been going on for years without yet reaching a conclusion.

NHCS Board Chairwoman Lisa Estep notified this parent on Tuesday his refiled retaliation complaint has been received, and the board plans to consider how to respond to it when they meet in closed session at their next meeting on November 5. That, coupled with the board’s recent actions following Edgerton’s complaint, make him cautiously hopeful they may take action.

“It’s a step in the right direction. I know Tim Markley knows exactly what he did. He knows exactly what his intent was. And he just barely escaped, in my mind, true, true consequences for [retaliating against Edgerton]. If they look back at my situation, if they look back at other parent situations, they will realize this is what they do they are creatures of habit they are used to bullying people,” the deputy said.

In response to the refiled complaint, New Hanover County Schools sent us the following response:

The School District has responded to [the parent’s] three OCR complaints in detail and has denied any retaliation against him. His latest complaint seems to cover the exact same issues although he mentions additional district administrators. The Board will discuss [the parent’s] latest complaint in Closed Session at its next regular meeting on November 5th.

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