Durham teacher suspended after link to Wake schools settlement

Posted January 10, 2020 3:45 p.m. EST
Updated January 14, 2020 3:15 p.m. EST

— Durham Public Schools has suspended a Northern Durham High School teacher with pay after learning Thursday that an accusation against him during his time in Wake County schools led to a $450,000 settlement with a student's family.

The teacher, Marcus Campbell, had no comment when WRAL News reached him by phone Friday afternoon.

"At no time this school year have any concerns arisen regarding that employee’s conduct with students or staff," Durham schools spokesman Chip Sudderth said in a statement. "However, DPS Human Resources is proceeding with a thorough investigation."

Durham schools announced earlier Friday that Campbell was placed on administrative leave but later updated his status to "suspended with pay."

On Tuesday night, the Wake County Board of Education agreed to pay $450,000 to a family who said Campbell illegally restrained and secluded their disabled son at Southeast Raleigh High last year, according to settlement records and the family's attorney.

WRAL News reached out to Durham Public Schools Thursday to see if the district was aware of the settlement involving Campbell, and the spokesman said he would check with the HR department. On Friday, he announced the teacher was no longer in the classroom as they investigate.

An attorney for the Wake County parents who received the settlement said they were concerned Campbell was teaching in another school and "are interested in the results of the DPS investigation as they would like to know how this could happen." Attorney Stacey Gahagan said the parents of "S.L." would like answers to the following questions:

  • Was S.L.'s teacher dismissed by the WCPSS?
  • Was he allowed to resign without any record of the allegations in his file?
  • Did WCPSS report to the State Board of Education?
  • Did the SBE investigate this matter?
  • Is the investigation ongoing or was a decision rendered?
  • Did S.L.'s teacher report on his application to the DPS that he had been dismissed, suspended, or asked to resign?
  • Did anyone from the DPS call the WCPSS for a reference?
  • If so, did someone from the WCPSS give the teacher a positive reference?
  • If so, was this person the SERHS principal who remained in her position through December 2019?

"S.L.'s parents – and other concerned citizens – would like to know where the system broke down that is supposed to protect our students from a teacher resigning and going to another district when these types of allegations are made," Gahagan wrote.

The Wake County parents said they noticed "multiple bruises on their child’s body" last school year and school staff informed them of Campbell's "improper aggressive behavior against another disabled student in the classroom," according to Gahagan.

The parents sent an email with pictures of their son's bruises to school administrators and to the school system email for reporting concerns, but no one contacted them to investigate the report, Gahagan wrote. Once the school system's legal counsel was made aware of the allegations, an investigation began and Campbell was removed from the classroom, the attorney wrote.

Staff members who reported the abusive behavior were transferred or investigated, but the school administrators were not removed, the attorney said. After investigating the situation for months, the district reassigned the school administrators to other positions in the system.

Wake schools has a protocol for reporting teachers who engage in abusive behavior to the State Board of Education, which conducts a review of the situation and decides whether licensure revocation is appropriate, Gahagan wrote. The school system has assured the parents that it follows this protocol consistently to ensure teachers who mistreat students, especially those with disabilities, do not end up teaching in another school, she added.

"This news is particularly disturbing" to the student's parents who "are concerned the same thing could happen to other children," Gahagan wrote. "The parents firmly believe that placing cameras in the separate classes for students with significant disabilities may prevent, or at least decrease the likelihood, of this type of harm against these students in the future."

In a statement Thursday, Wake County Public Schools spokesman Tim Simmons said the district "was unaware of the allegations prior to the parent's petition. After the allegations were made, Special Education Services provided mandatory training for all teachers at the school who work with students in self-contained classrooms. The staff member against whom the allegations were made is no longer employed with the school system."

The Wake school board voted Tuesday night to approve the settlement, but details about the case were not released at that time. The board made the decision "based on guidance from the district's attorneys to prevent protracted litigation," Simmons said.

North Carolina law details circumstances when seclusion and restraint are permissible in schools.

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