'How will it be different?’ Former educator writes to NHCS leaders after latest arrest in school sex scandal

Updated: Feb. 5, 2020 at 6:15 PM EST
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - The mother of a student allegedly assaulted by former Laney High band director Richard Priode is imploring school district officials to act after another band teacher was charged for assaulting his students.

The primary question Barbara Ann Burnett, who worked as a teacher in New Hanover County Schools for nearly two decades, poses in her letter addressed to New Hanover County Board of Education Chair Lisa Estep Wednesday is how the district’s actions following Peter Frank’s arrest will be different than their response to teacher arrests in the past. Burnett previous wrote members of the school board in July 2019, according to Port City Daily.

“There have been many alarm bells sounded through the years that resulted in great outrage, false starts, and broken promises. It has been a long journey for many of us who have to question why it will be different this time after the arrest of Mr. Frank,” Burnett wrote in the letter.

Frank is the third New Hanover County Schools employee charged with sex crimes against his students in the past two years.

A civil lawsuit involving former teacher of the year Michael Kelly, who pleaded guilty to 59 charges tied to sex crimes against students, is still ongoing. Nicholas Oates died before he went to trial on charges he had a sexual relationship with a student at Myrtle Grove Middle School.

Burnett’s letter also points out the arrests of Richard Priode and Jessica Wishnask back in 2009. Both were charged for taking indecent liberties with a child.

Richard Priode was a former Laney High School band director who left the district and was eventually arrested for having a sexual relationship with a student while he was a teacher in Charlotte.

Burnett says she wrote Dr. Rick Holliday, who was then principal at Laney High School, to report her daughter had been physically abused by Priode in April of 1999. Her letter included 13 specific examples of the band director’s inappropriate behavior to students and parents.

She didn’t stop there, either.

“You, the current school board, are now responsible for correcting the escalation of abuse and harassment that has continued for TWENTY YEARS and 10 MONTHS since I wrote that very first letter," Burnett wrote. “I did not stop sounding alarms after my daughter left Laney High School her senior year in large part to escape the harassment by Mr. Priode. My files now include 27 sets of correspondences beginning April 20, 1999 to July 11, 2019. These were from, addressed to, or copied to 36 different people.”

Four superintendents, three county administrators, four principals and assistant principals, 16 school board members, six county commissioners, two district attorney offices, local and state detectives and a private attorney were among the people she reportedly corresponded with on the case.

“Victims and their families have to live with much guilt including the burning question, ‘What more could we have done?’ I hope you have been asking yourselves that very same question," Burnett wrote. “My greatest hope is that you persevere and remain on a path of continued correction and action to protect our children. I pray there will be no new victims.”

Members of the school board and the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners were all sent a copy of the letter.

Editor’s Note: WECT does not typically identify the victims of assault. This letter has been published with the express permission of the author.

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