Local News

Parents concerned over headmaster misconduct claims

Posted March 13, 2012 6:11 p.m. EDT
Updated March 13, 2012 6:16 p.m. EDT

— Some parents at East Wake Academy in Zebulon say they are concerned about how the charter school is handling allegations that its top administrator had inappropriate conduct with teachers.

Because charter schools operate independently of county school systems, the school's board of directors is handling the matter, which involves headmaster Brandon Smith and two teachers.

Parent Becky Thornton said Tuesday that she is disappointed that Smith is still working amid the investigation.

"I think that puts undue stress on the teachers," she said.

Some parents said they kept their children home from school Tuesday because they were concerned about the controversy.

At an emergency meeting Monday night, some parents voiced their concerns to the board of directors about what they say is a serious situation that they feel has been shrouded in secrecy.

"It's been brought to my attention that two teachers at the school have signed documents indicating sexual harassment involving the headmaster of our school," parent Sheri Williams said.

Smith declined an interview Tuesday, but the board's vice chairman, Bill Ausley, confirmed that there is an investigation involving Smith.

"It's still pending," Ausley said, declining to comment on the nature of that investigation.

He said that there is another board meeting scheduled for 11 a.m. Wednesday, when the board hopes to reach a resolution about the situation.

The board's six other directors couldn't be reached for comment.

Zebulon Police Chief Timothy Hayworth said the police department has received several calls over the past few days from people concerned about the situation but that none of them have been from the alleged victims.

"We are aware of the story, but until we get a victim who comes forward and says, 'I want to file a report,' we have nothing to hang our hat on," Hayworth said.

Joel Medley, director of the state's Office of Charter Schools, said that charter school boards have absolute discretion and autonomy when it comes to personnel issues and that the state becomes involved only if a crime is committed or the allegations involve students.

According to Smith's profile on the professional networking site LinkedIn, he has been the headmaster at East Wake Academy since July 2002.

Court records show that a teacher at a Githens Middle School in Durham, where Smith used to work, claimed that she was sexually harassed by him in the late 1990s and that she filed a lawsuit against the county school board. It was later dismissed.

Jeffrey Nash, a spokesman for Durham Public Schools, said Smith worked for the school system from 1993 until 2000. He said he was still researching Tuesday afternoon the circumstances of why Smith left.