NEW HANOVER COUNTY, N.C. (WECT) - The New Hanover County Schools United for Students group hosted a support meeting for parents and students of the New Hanover County School district Monday.
At the meeting, attorney Ryan Schultz, one of the lawyers involved in the class-action lawsuit filed against the school system for how it handled the case involving Mike Kelly gave an update on the case.
“Right now, we are actively talking to witnesses and that is a very big challenge, coming forward and finding witnesses to talk to who are slowly kind of coming out of the woodwork and out of the shadows. We can see it’s been a problem for a very long time and I think there’s been a pattern and culture of silence and the time for that is over,” he said.
Schultz also talked about a civil case likely to be filed against Peter Frank, the Roland Grise Middle School band instructor charged with a dozen felony sex crimes.
The NHCS United for Students Group plans to file that class action suit while the criminal suit is ongoing.
“We’re still actively looking for witnesses. I think there are people who have been embarrassed, scared to step forward. And I think that’s been among the real tragedies is that when you go and you finally get the guts to go say something, and you finally get the guts to go and tell somebody and it gets swept under the rug, you get victimized twice,” Schultz said.
For the first time since inside a courtroom, a mother spoke publicly about her son, who was victimized by Mike Kelly.
She says Kelly, like other predators, groomed students by normalizing inappropriate behavior.
“Everything appeared to be about supporting, about being the village, so for over a year, I mean this was just.... you send your kids to school and you trust they’re going to be safe. Mr. Kelly talked a lot about fraternities and brotherhood. The counselor from the high school, when I was there, he talked to those boys about fraternities and brotherhood, going to college. This is what it’s like. He normalized that behavior,” the mother said.
The mother talked about her own experiences being abused by a teacher when she was young. She said she did not recognize it as abuse until years later.
“At that moment, I vowed that I would protect my kids, that this would never happen to them,” she said.
Her son was eager to go to Isaac Bear Early College High School, planning on having his PhD before the age of 30.
Eventually, he had no desire to go to school and begged to transfer to Cape Fear Community College.
“It was a year into Cape Fear and I see an article about Mr. Kelly and it was just like a punch in the gut because I knew, I knew,” she said.
She said her son encouraged her to share their story at the meeting Monday so others will talk as well.
“If you have any feeling that your child or a friend could have been a victim of any of these teachers because there’s still victims of Mr. Kelly’s out there. There’s still victims of probably Nicholas Oates and all of them. Give them time and space to share, don’t demand them to give too many details, because they’re going to have to share those details over and over again and it’s really hard,” she said.