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Thursday, May 30, 2024

New Hanover Superintendent says jailhouse visit with arrested teacher was warranted

Michael Earl Kelly now faces a total of 55 charges, with offense dates as far back as 2003 and as recently as 2017. (Port City Daily photo | BENJAMIN SCHACHTMAN)
Michael Earl Kelly in 2018, facing over 50 charges including sexual misconduct with students. (Port City Daily photo / Benjamin Schachtman)

NEW HANOVER COUNTY — Several citizen groups have expressed concern over a visit by top administrators to former teacher Michael Earl Kelly while he was detained following his arrest last year. Superintendent Dr. Tim Markley noted that, while it was not part of district policy, the circumstances warranted the visit.

According to a letter written by Markley and to the North Carolina Department of Instruction (DPI) Licensure Section, Markley made the visit to Kelly the day after his February 6, 2018 arrest. This was, according to Markley’s letter, after the district was informed of the charges against Kelly (including possession of pornographic images of his students and sexual contact with a student); according to Markley’s letter, the district’s knowledge was based on a “media report.”

Dr. Tim Markley's February 8, 2018, letter to the state concerning Michael Earl Kelly's teaching license. (Port City Daily photo / File)
Dr. Tim Markley’s February 8, 2018, letter to the state concerning Michael Earl Kelly’s teaching license. (Port City Daily photo / File)

“On February 7th, 2018, NHCS Deputy Superintendent Dr. Rick Holliday and I visited Mr. Kelly in jail as part of my personnel investigation into his alleged conduct. Mr. Kelly stated to us that the charge against him regarding the photograph was true and that he had engaged in sexual contact with the student,” Markley wrote.

The district suspended Kelly without pay on that day and, after Markley’s visit to Kelly, began preparing dismissal proceedings.

Markley did not say, specifically, if he had conducted any other such jail interviews with other employees (or if Holliday had accompanied him on such interviews), but noted the decision to visit Kelly was based on several factors.

According to Markley, “It is not a policy to conduct interviews in jail, however, the seriousness of the allegations and the likelihood that he would be in custody for an extended period of time warranted making the visit.”

Markley said the meeting happened in a small conference room at the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office detention center. Markley said that he did not know if the interview had been recorded, but that a law enforcement officer had been present.

New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Lt. Jerry Brewer confirmed that Markley and Holliday did not log in for a standard detainee visit. They were instead escorted by a deputy to a room, most often used by attorneys (and thus, sometimes referred to as the ‘attorney client room’). A deputy supervised the meeting with Kelly and escorted Markley and Holliday out when it was over, Brewer said.

In his letter to DPI, Markley asks the state to investigate Kelly’s actions to see if actions against his teaching license should be taken. Markley noted that NHCS cannot independently strip a teacher’s license.

“Only the state can issue or revoke a teacher’s license. Districts can only request they investigate,” Markley said.

According to DPI’s online records, Kelly’s teaching license is still valid through June 30, 2022; presumably, Kelly’s license will lapse while he is in prison. DPI has not yet responded to questions about whether a revocation for Kelly’s license was issued but not finalized.

Dr. Tim Markley letter to NCDPI Re: Michael Earl Kelly by Ben Schachtman on Scribd

Send comments and tips to Benjamin Schachtman at, @pcdben on Twitter, and (910) 538-2001

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