Middle school band teacher charged with sex crimes fired by New Hanover County Schools

Updated: Feb. 15, 2020 at 1:14 PM EST
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NEW HANOVER COUNTY, N.C. (WECT) - Just shy of three weeks after he was arrested and charged with 12 counts of felony sex crimes, Peter Frank has been fired by the New Hanover County Board of Education.

The board met Saturday morning and held a lengthy closed session before voting unanimously to terminate Frank’s employment. Representatives from New Hanover County were on hand to provide support for the board.

The board approved both a resolution in favor of the termination, as well as the termination letter, both of which were later provided to the media.

Frank, who was a band teacher at Roland-Grise Middle School, was initially suspended with pay on Jan. 27*, and then without pay starting Jan. 29.

In the letter the board will send to Frank outlining his termination, his arrest and some of the details found in search warrants from the New Hanover County Sheriff’s are listed as the reason.

The now former teacher faces six charges of felonious indecent liberties with a child, and six of felonious indecent liberties with a student by a teacher. Each charge of indecent liberties with a child carries a maximum sentence of 59 months in prison if convicted. The charges for indecent liberties with a student carry a penalty of two years each.

Frank was first hired by the school system in 1997, and search warrants indicate the teacher was “counseled” for inappropriate behavior as early as 1999.

According to the criminal charges, the incidents leading to Frank’s arrest allegedly happened over the course of 2003 to 2019.

The board specifically referenced the photos of female students found on Frank’s electronic devices, the incident involving a soda bottle outlined in the search warrants, and an allegation that Frank kissed a middle school student.

In addition to the pending charges and evidence already outlined by law enforcement being noted as “appalling" to the board, the letter sent to Frank reads:

“Your actions were made known to the community through media reports published subsequent to your arrest. Your presence as an employee in a school would create a hostile educational environment for female students in violation of their rights.”

The board’s letter says NHCS will be sending a report on Frank to the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, which will determine the status of his teaching license, and it concludes noting Frank is barred from school property and events.

Board chair Lisa Estep said the board acted as quickly as state law allows to terminate Frank.

“I believe that the board acted as quickly as it could again, within the confines of state law, and I think our board acted in unity to try to move along as quickly as possible," she said. "So I’m very proud of the work that was done.”

Beginning on Jan. 29, Frank had 14 days to request a hearing with the board to protest his suspension without pay and the superintendent’s pending recommendation that he be fired.

According to the letter and resolution the board approved, Frank never requested such a hearing.

The letter also claims the school board “had no knowledge of the misconduct for which you [Frank] hav been charged until notified by law enforcement.”

Frank is the third New Hanover County Schools employee to be charged with sex crimes with minors in the last two years. Michael Kelly pleaded guilty to 59 counts in June 2019. Nicholas Oates died in custody while awaiting trial.

Amid the controversy surrounding the school system, superintendent Tim Markley and assistant superintendent of human resources John Welmers have resigned.

When asked to respond to the frustrations from parents, students and the greater community over the ongoing scandal, Estep said she recognizes their position.

“I can understand that. I can understand the frustration. The school system has been in the news a lot, but what I can say is that what this has demonstrated to us is that although it doesn’t feel like that, the systems are in place, and the systems are working. We have worked a lot with law-enforcement, the reporting systems are there, and we are going to continue to refine them,” she said.

In an emailed statement to the media, deputy superintendent Lachawn Smith echoed those sentiments.

“Peter Frank’s alleged actions are reprehensible and we will work with investigators on his case in any way that is asked of us. We are committed to providing support to the students, teachers, and parents who have been impacted by his actions. We appreciate the public’s patience as we follow state law in his dismissal. The district is working hard every single day to improve our processes and put practices into place to hold teachers, staff, and administration accountable. We are already taking proactive steps to further ensure the safety and wellbeing of our students, and we will keep you informed in an open and transparent way as we move forward.”

*NHCS originally reported to the media Frank was suspended with pay on Jan. 23, but the letter and resolution provided Feb. 15 indicate that paid suspension began on Jan. 27. WECT has requested clarification on this discrepancy.

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