NHC school board hopefuls weigh in on sexual misconduct incident

NHC school board hopefuls weigh in on sexual misconduct incident

NEW HANOVER COUNTY, NC (WECT) - A former New Hanover County School Board member called out current leaders on Facebook, saying if they had handled a case of sexual misconduct differently, a 14-year-old girl may not have been raped.

Tammy Covil made a public post on her Facebook page regarding an incident involving former Myrtle Grove Middle School teacher Nicholas Oates. Covil wrote:

"They allowed him to resign in order to protect his ability to secure employment with another school system and seal his record from public scrutiny. Had they fired him, they would have had to disclose the fact that he was sexting a child.

According to a spokesperson with New Hanover County Schools, Oates was hired at Myrtle Grove Middle on Jan. 19, 2016, and resigned Feb. 1, 2017. His resignation made it possible for him to get another job working with children.

The New Hanover County Sheriff's Office confirmed that on Dec. 1, 2016, Oates was being investigated in reference to text messages between him and a minor. That incident was brought to the attention of the school system and investigated by a school resource officer at Myrtle Grove, but it was deemed that no crime was committed.

An NHC Schools spokesperson said the school system did a background check on Oates and verified charges against him were dismissed prior to his employment with NHCS. The school system confirmed Oates was suspended without pay Dec. 2-13, 2016, and again from Jan. 26, 2017, to the date of his resignation.

"Personnel laws prevent the NHCS from giving the reason for his resignation," the spokesperson's email read. "Myrtle Grove was his only assignment with NHCS."

While Oates awaits his second court date scheduled for late July, school board hopefuls shared their thoughts on how the incident has been handled.

"When somebody does something like this, allowing them any type of leniency before you've fully investigated any type of allegation is unacceptable," Democratic candidate Nelson Beaulieu said. "It's not only unfair to the victims, but to any future potential victims. It shouldn't just be a firing. It needs to be something much more substantial. To allow somebody to resign under these types of circumstances frankly is unacceptable."

"There needs to be better things in place that protect future children whether they be in school or otherwise," said Democratic candidate Stefanie Adams. "Background checks on the front end are important, but when someone's leaving us, we need to be sure we're putting them in the right place, and if that means there needs to be criminal convictions, we need to be pressing that as well."

"We need more transparency," Democratic candidate Judy Justice said. "This is why I'm running for the school board. When I started teaching back in, I think it was 91 at Laney, I taught all through the 90s. I felt then that we weren't open enough with the public, that there were things going on that were of concern. Then I left and came back when I retired and lo and behold, I think things have gotten worse."

"The fact that Oates was allowed to resign and go on to prey on more children is a tragedy," Democratic candidate Elena Rosemond-Hoerr said. "We are putting our children in harm's way when we do not take serious action against teachers who engage in sexual assault and misconduct. This is not the time or place for allowing someone to quietly resign. NHCS needs to show its students and community that it is committed to keeping them safe by making it crystal clear that it will not tolerate sexual predators in its schools."

WECT tried contacting all school board candidates. Bill Rivenbark has not responded.

We also reached out to current school board members up for re-election. They were not available for comment.

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