NEW HANOVER COUNTY – Members of the New Hanover County Board of Education will once again attempt to remove the name of Rick Holliday from the Laney High School football stadium Tuesday after a failed attempt last month.
For over a year now, there has been a public outcry to strip the honor from the once-deputy superintendent of New Hanover County Schools. Holliday is widely accused of allowing former teacher Michael Kelly to sexually abuse minors on school grounds, despite knowledge of the atrocities.
Holliday served as principal while Kelly taught science at Laney High in the early 2000s. In summer 2019, Holliday resigned from his central office post upon the allegations stemming from Kelly’s sentencing hearing put forth by assistant district attorney Connie Jordan. Kelly claimed he was once investigated by the district for sexual misconduct and cleared of any wrongdoings, years before his arrest.
A civil suit filed in 2019 alleges Holliday repeatedly failed to act on information of Kelly’s crimes and that Superintendent Tim Markley was negligent in supervising Holliday.
A year-old petition to take Holliday’s name off the stadium has garnered more than 4,500 signatures. The facility has donned the former coach’s name since 2005, soon after Holliday was promoted to the central office.
Ten minutes are slated on the school board’s Apr. 13 agenda to discuss the renaming and potentially take action.
Board member Judy Justice said she intends on motioning to remove the dedication Tuesday evening. At that point, she expects to receive a second. The board would then engage in a discussion, with each member offering his or her perspective, before taking a final vote on whether to pull off the name.
If it passes, Justice expects to immediately initiate a vote to set in motion the process of giving the stadium a new title.
Renaming a facility requires the board to wait 60 days to allot the community sufficient time to give input before a final decision is made, according to policy No. 5400.
“I feel like, tomorrow night is the deal,” board member Stephanie Walker said Monday. “A side is going to have to be picked.”
Last month at the Mar. 16 meeting, Justice and Walker both requested the subject be placed on the board agenda in an attempt to scrub the name, but it failed.
Since the item was listed vaguely as “naming of school facilities” and labeled as an “information item,” Justice’s effort to rename the stadium was hindered. Chairperson Stefanie Adams and attorney Deborah Stagner explained, since the item was not listed for action, taking a vote without proper advance notice posed a potential violation of open-meeting laws.
“I left that meeting very frustrated,” Walker said.
The legal guidance raised questions about whether Stagner’s service to the board presented a conflict of interest. Stagner is defending New Hanover County Schools in John Does v. New Hanover County Board of Education et al. In the suit, Holliday is one of the defendants.
Former Laney High student Chris Sutton, the organizer of the petition to remove Holliday’s name from the stadium, pushed for the potential conflict of interest to be publicly discussed and has threatened to sue the board if it is not. Yet, it is not on the agenda for Tuesday’s meeting.
Per Policy No. 2122, “Role of Board Members in Handling Complaints,” members of the public may request that board members place items on the agenda for discussion when there is not an administrative remedy.
“I requested it to be placed on the agenda due to that policy,” Sutton said, “and I had board members back me up and support me. It was supposed to be placed on the agenda. [Adams] is using her power as chair to not place it on the agenda.”
Justice said she intends on bringing up the issue during the meeting in front of the audience.
“It’s a public contract with public money, and if there is a conflict of interest, the public needs to know about it,” Justice said.
The public can watch the meeting on YouTube or in person at the New Hanover County Schools building, located at 1805 S. 13th St. Attendance is limited to 50 people.
The meeting will begin one hour earlier than usual at 4:30 p.m. The board will join in closed session from the start of the meeting until no later than 6:30 p.m., according to the agenda.
Aug. 2, 2019: New Hanover Superintendent says jailhouse visit with arrested teacher was warranted
Feb. 13, 2020: Why is there a stadium named after Rick Holliday? What would changing it look like? [Free read]
Feb. 28, 2020: NHCS sends mixed signals on Holliday stadium renaming, possibly fearing legal ramifications [Free read]
Aug. 30, 2020: NHCS reneges on teacher records, punts on Holliday stadium, mum on former attorney
Mar. 18, 2021: Conflict of interest? Attorney advising school board decisions while working case defense
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