Local News

Freedom Christian Academy co-founder charged with violating sex offender registry law

Posted August 31, 2015 5:37 p.m. EDT
Updated August 31, 2015 5:57 p.m. EDT

Fayetteville's Freedom Christian Academy

— The head of a Fayetteville private school under fire for an academic scandal and having a convicted sex offender perform work on campus was arrested Monday.

Joan Ellen Dayton, co-founder of Freedom Christian Academy, turned herself in on a felony charge of violating the state's Sex Offender Registration Act. Authorities said she failed to report, and aided and abetted, Paul Conner, a registered sex offender who worked at the school.

In July, Dayton announced she was taking an unpaid leave of absence. She was not charged at the time but was named in Conner's arrest warrant as a co-conspirator.

She is scheduled to enter a plea in court at 2 p.m. Tuesday.

The Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office began looking into the school in March after an unidentified parent withdrew her children when discovering Dayton knowingly allowed Conner to work there during the 2011-12 academic year, the department said. Conner’s wife was a teacher at the school during that time, deputies said

Under state law, a convicted sex offender cannot live within 1,000 feet of a K-12 school or child care center or “work at any place where a minor is present and the person’s responsibilities or activities would include instruction, supervision or care of a minor or minors.”

Deputies served a search warrant at the school on May 20. Along with collecting items in relation to Conner, investigators also sought “documentary and computer evidence” related to allegations of academic fraud where athletes and other favored students had their grades changed “to increase the reported level of performance” while students not favored by administrators had their grades reduced.

The school was issued a subpoena by deputies to produce all records related to Conner's employment at the school and the changing of student grades.