Tuesday, December 6, 2022

New Hanover County Commissioners propose sending investigators, social workers into schools

The DA along with Sheriff have requested an outside investigation into allegations against New Hanover County Schools administration. (Port City Daily photo/Johanna Ferebee)
The New Hanover County Schools district has seen multiple arrests and numerous allegations in recent years. (Port City Daily photo / File)

WILMINGTON — Amid mounting public outcry over the number of New Hanover County School employees arrested as sexual predators, and the lack of action taken by the Board of Education, the county’s Board of Commissioners have offered to add additional resources.

County Commissioners voiced frustration with failures in the school systems, but did not point to specific individuals they felt were responsible, instead calling the issue ‘systemic.’ Despite recent tensions between commissioners, the board appeared unified on this issue.

Read more: A long hard look at New Hanover County Schools’ arrests, allegations, and administration [Free read]

In North Carolina, school boards act as quasi-independent agencies without direct oversight on issues like personnel and policy from the Board of Commissioners. However, commissioners do retain sole power to tax, and to provide local funding and approve the overall school budget.

In this case, commissioners have proposed using resources under county control — including the Sheriff’s Office and the Department of Social Services — to address problems in the school systems. But, because New Hanover County Schools is functionally separate from the county government, the Board of Education will have to vote to allow the county to get involved. County officials expected that to happen at the school board’s Tuesday meeting.

The following statement from Board of Commissioners Chairwoman Julia Olson-Boseman on Monday night lays out the county’s proposal:

“In light of the most recent allegations against a New Hanover County Schools teacher and systemic, ongoing issues within our school system, the Board of Commissioners has been in regular contact with the school board letting them know that the county is ready to support them in any way possible.

So at today’s meeting, the county announced that we will provide support teams to aid in personnel investigations at all public schools. We are asking the school board to approve the county’s proposal and grant our teams access when they meet tomorrow, so that we can examine where things stand regarding any open or prior complaint about school personnel that involves inappropriate student contact. 

The county has three teams ready that include investigators from the Sheriff’s Office who are focused on crimes against children and forensic social workers that specialize in child abuse and neglect. These teams are specially trained to examine these types of situations and, once approved and requested by the school board, they will begin their work. The county has also committed to provide resource support of school-based mental health counselors to support immediate needs and long-term assistance for students, teachers, and families. The county will also ensure that our school system is aware and utilize the community’s rapid crisis response program to support families based on the need.

This issue is of utmost importance to all five of your Commissioners, and we will do everything we can to ensure our children are protected and safe. We believe that a thorough investigation with the right support services – and then an ongoing protocol and policy that ensures this never happens again – is necessary.”

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