Sexual abuse survivors react to settlement agreement with New Hanover County Schools

Sexual abuse survivors react to settlement agreement with New Hanover County Schools
Published: Jun. 12, 2023 at 5:54 PM EDT
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - Fourteen victims of sexual abuse at the hands of former teacher Michael Kelly agree to settle a civil lawsuit against the New Hanover County Board of Education.

As part of the settlement agreement, the 14 plaintiffs will receive $5.75 million and the school board will have to expand training for students and staff related to sexual abuse recognition and reporting. A survivor of Kelly’s abuse says those changes are necessary to protect students going forward.

“You would be a damn fool if you didn’t take the chance to start making the changes to make sure that things are handled correctly going forward and into perpetuity,” he said. “As long as your school system is intact, there is no excuse for what happened in New Hanover County.”

Several victims of Kelly’s abuse say the settlement agreement is a step forward in the healing process, but one survivor says he will never fully recover.

“This is something that us, as well as anybody who has gone through this, has to live with for the rest of their life,” the survivor said. “It’s not something that will ever leave them. It’s not something that you can just shut out, there are always times where things are going to be brought back up.”

Stephanie Walker, a member of the New Hanover County Board of Education, says more work needs to be done when it comes to protecting students.

“I’m going to make sure that you know, me as a board member absolutely does continue what we’ve been doing, what we’ve been building on as far as, you know, the Title IX issues, etc,” said Walker. “You know, I did work on a survey last year, hoping that we could, you know, somehow get a get a pulse on what was going on. So, I’m well aware that, you know, this work needs to continue.”

WECT reached out to all seven members of the board to ask for an on-camera interview Monday. Walker agreed to comment on-camera, while all other members either declined or did not respond before publication. Board Chairman Pete Wildeboer referenced the board’s statement from when the settlement agreement was announced last week

One of Kelly’s victims says the fight to protect current and future students in New Hanover County will continue despite the settlement agreement, and he hopes the board will make significant changes.

“Knowing that people do have family still in the [school] system, that’s motivating to hear that there will be steps made to help make sure- to prevent that this doesn’t happen again to those other people and that’s very powerful, in my opinion,” he said.

While the school board will be dismissed from the lawsuit once the settlement agreement is finalized, an attorney for the victims says the civil case will continue against Kelly.

The New Hanover County Board of Education is still named as a defendant in another civil lawsuit related to allegations of abuse by Peter Frank, a former band teacher at Roland-Grise Middle School. Frank was convicted in 2020 on more than 25 charges related to sex crimes involving students.