Local News

Zebulon school's headmaster on paid leave amid allegations

Posted March 14, 2012 6:05 p.m. EDT
Updated March 14, 2012 8:18 p.m. EDT

— The top administrator of a Zebulon charter school has been placed on a paid leave of absence amid allegations of misconduct and a police investigation into sexual battery of a school employee.

The board of directors for East Wake Academy met for more than six hours in a closed session Wednesday discussing a personnel matter involving headmaster Brandon Smith.

Board members won't comment on the issue, but parents claim it has to do with accusations that Smith sexually harassed two teachers.

"This is, in no way, a statement on his guilt or innocence," the board's vice chairman, Bill Ausley, said Wednesday evening.

Zebulon Police Chief Tim Hayworth said that his department is also investigating a criminal complaint filed Wednesday afternoon by a female school employee who accused Smith of unwanted touching.

Smith, 57, who has been the headmaster at East Wake Academy for the past 10 years, told WRAL News Wednesday afternoon that the board was dealing with a "personnel grievance matter" and that he was not at liberty, under state law, to talk about it.

"I'm bound, again, by personnel law in terms of what I can say," he said. "I can tell you this: I continue to follow policy. I have always put children first, and I have not done anything wrong or harmed anyone."

He added that some of the people making accusations against him are disgruntled former employees.

Wednesday's emergency meeting was the second this week. A meeting Monday lasted more than seven hours, ending around 2:30 a.m. Tuesday, according to parents who were at the meeting.

While specific personnel matters are exempt from North Carolina's public meeting law, parents taking issue with the board say that they are upset because they were never notified that Smith was under investigation, that their concerns weren't being heard and that Smith was allowed to continue working prior to the board's decision Wednesday.

"I'm concerned that the details aren't being disclosed," parent Susan Boykin said. "I feel like we're not being kept informed about what's going on."

Parent Angie O'Neal says that she believes Smith has been an effective headmaster over the past decade, supporting students with special needs and converting the East Wake Academy campus into a state-of-the art facility.

"He's gone so far above and beyond, where my son is concerned," she said.

But, she says, the teachers making the accusations are also well-respected.

"They're fantastic teachers. Mr. Smith has been a fantastic headmaster," she said. "At the same time, if the allegations are true, he shouldn't be there."

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.

Court records show that a teacher at a Githens Middle School in Durham, where Smith used to work, claimed that he sexually harassed her 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 district from 1993 until 2000. He said he was still researching Wednesday the circumstances of why Smith left.

A Wake County Public School System spokesman said Wednesday that Smith was also an assistant principal at Enloe High School in Raleigh from 1990 to 1993.