With the recent victory of victims of one of Wilmington’s most high-profile school sexual abuse cases, a state investigation into New Hanover County schools’ handling of the overall sexual abuse issue is now in the hands of the State Attorney General for review.
Last month, former music teacher Peter Frank, a former music teacher at Roland-Grise Middle School, was convicted and convicted of numerous counts of sexual abuse. Frank’s abuse was one of three major incidents that came to light in 2018, opening up a wound to a generation of students who have attended some city schools for the past 20 years.
Attorney General Josh Stein’s office recently confirmed that it received the full file of the investigation conducted by the State Bureau of Investigation into the district’s response to reports of sexual abuse.
Stein’s office will now begin to review the case and “take any appropriate action.”
The investigation was requested by New Hanover District Attorney Ben David and Sheriff Ed McMahon days after former Deputy Superintendent of Schools Rick Holliday announced his retirement in June 2019.
David and McMahon asked the State Bureau of Investigation to check whether any laws had been broken in the way the district handled reports of abuse by former teachers.
In particular, both were concerned about obstruction of justice and failure to report abuse or neglect when reports of sexual abuse had allegedly been reported to district administrators in previous years.
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The request for an investigation came after former teacher Michael Kelly told the FBI he had been investigated by the school district in previous years for allegations that he exposed himself. to a student at Isaac Bear Early College High School. Kelly, a former teacher of the year who worked at Isaac Bear and before that at Laney High School, was arrested in 2018 and later pleaded guilty to 59 counts related to child sexual abuse dating back to 2003, including 19 victims, many of whom were students. He was sentenced to 39.8 years in prison.
The district disputed Kelly’s claims, saying that in 2019 no incidents were reported to school administrators.
In a statement released by David’s office when the investigation request was sent to the state, he said that following Kelly’s guilty plea, the sheriff’s office conducted interviews with Kelly about the allegations of an internal investigation. He said that after reviewing Kelly’s statements and other allegations from members of the public, he and McMahon believe an investigation should be conducted by an agency with no local ties.
Shortly before the dossier was provided to the Attorney General’s office last month, former band teacher Frank was also found guilty and found guilty of numerous counts of sexual abuse. In this lawsuit, evidence revealed notes in Frank’s personal file that indicated Frank had inappropriate relationships with students.
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It is unclear whether this information was included in the State Bureau of Investigation file. Prosecutors from the Attorney General’s Office handled Frank’s trial at David’s request, but that request was unrelated to the inquiry request.
It’s also unclear when Stein’s office will finish reviewing the investigation file or if any action will be taken.
Sexual abuse cases continue to plague school district
The school district continues to deal with the repercussions of sexual abuse cases that date back decades. A third teacher, Nicholas Oates, was charged around the same time as Kelly and Frank, but died of an apparent medical emergency while awaiting trial. Oates was a special education assistant at Myrtle Grove Middle School.
Now, in addition to the state’s investigation, the school district is preparing for trial in a lawsuit brought by more than a dozen former students who were abused by Kelly.
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District attorneys have attempted to have parts of the lawsuit dismissed, arguing that the school district has no obligation to protect its students from abuse and that Kelly was not acting in his role as an employee of the district when he abused his students. A judge denied the school district’s motion to dismiss.
The judge also ruled that the 14 plaintiffs could remain on trial for the time being. District attorneys argued that because a statute of limitations had passed since the abuse occurred, several of the plaintiffs could not stay in the lawsuit. The state’s General Assembly extended the window for victims of childhood sexual abuse to file complaints against their abusers through the SAFE Child Act passed in 2019.
The judge referred the case to a three-judge panel in Raleigh to determine the constitutionality of overriding a statute of limitations and opening a window for victims to bring forward allegations.
The civil suit was due to go to trial in September, but will be pushed back pending a panel hearing in Raleigh.
Reporter Sydney Hoover can be reached at 910-343-2339 or [email protected]
This article originally appeared on Wilmington StarNews: What to know: State investigation into sexual abuse at New Hanover school