State board ‘closely monitoring’ situation in New Hanover schools

Updated: Feb. 14, 2020 at 2:43 PM EST
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NEW HANOVER COUNTY, N.C. (WECT) - In a brief, impromptu discussion at the end of the State Board of Education’s (SBOE) special meeting Friday morning, Board Chair Eric Davis addressed the “situation” in New Hanover County Schools (NHCS), saying the board is offering its support.

“We are closely monitoring the situation in that school district,” Davis said. “In particular, Mr. [Reginald] Kenan because that’s his district and Vice Chair [Alan] Duncan along with our counselor have been actively involved in supporting the [New Hanover County Board of Education] in rectifying that situation.”

Davis’ statement was in response to comments made by State Treasurer Dale Folwell, who is also a member of the SBOE, moments before the board adjourned.

While seemingly alluding to the situation involving Roland-Grise band teacher Peter Frank, Folwell indicated his main concern is with “bad actors” attempting to avoid consequences by moving from one school district to another before formal dismissal proceedings can be initiated.

“Ten years ago, I passed a law regarding employees who are about to be dismissed for issues related to what we’re hearing out of New Hanover County,” Folwell said. “After that long, arduous process – months in some cases it takes to get one of these cases together – five minutes before someone is getting ready to be dismissed, they walk in and they resign. And they walk over to another school system and get another job.”

“I just wanted to make sure that the law that was passed is being implemented to keep these bad actors from skipping from school district to school district and continuing their bad behaviors,” he continued.

Frank, 47, was charged last month with 12 felony counts of taking indecent liberties with children and students. Court documents released after Frank’s arrest detailed disturbing evidence investigators had compiled as part of their investigation, including the discovery of images of middle-school-aged students on his phone – the catalyst for Frank’s admission of sexual attraction to girls that age.

Despite the evidence against Frank, the long-time employee remains suspended without pay — although it’s worth noting the school board has called a special meeting for Saturday to discuss his employment — likely due to his status as a “career employee,” requiring the district to adhere to a specific timeline should it pursue dismissal.

The law referenced by Folwell, House Bill 1377, explicitly addresses career employees who have been recommended for dismissal but instead choose to resign, by requiring the employee’s superintendent to report the matter to the SBOE and inform any prospective employers of the dismissal recommendation if asked. The employee is also deemed to have voluntarily surrendered his or her teaching certificate, pending an investigation by the SBOE.

“I, and others, realized an employee recommended for dismissal could simply resign and apply in another school district without the new district knowing that there was evidence of wrongdoing,” Folwell said in an emailed statement Friday afternoon. “The Act requires superintendents to report dismissal recommendations to the State Board of Education. Students, parents, teachers and taxpayers like them deserve to be protected with the enforcement of this law.

It’s unclear if the board’s discussion of the “situation” in New Hanover County refers to the Peter Frank case alone, or to the fact the district has seen three employees charged with sex crimes involving students in the last two years.

WECT has reached out to Kenan for more on the state board’s involvement with the New Hanover County school board. This story will be updated with his response.

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