Principal sent 'inappropriate emails,' continued working with kids
Posted October 27, 2011 6:00 p.m. EDT
Updated October 27, 2011 11:30 p.m. EDT
Durham, N.C. — A Durham middle school principal abruptly resigned last year after sending dozens of emails and text messages to two eighth-grade girls, saying he loved them and calling them "sweetie," "baby" and "cutie," resulting in a restraining order against him. Yet, that did not keep the principal from going elsewhere to work with children.
Ed Forsythe was an award-winning educator with 37 years of experience when he suddenly resigned as principal of Voyager Academy on Nov. 30 and was escorted off school property.
He lost his state teaching license several months later after the State Board of Education found that he "conducted his behavior under the guise of acceptable administrator duties," and that his "inappropriate behavior" was "masked as counseling, tutoring and mentoring the students."
Twice named Durham Public Schools' "Principal of the Year" and once named "Teacher of the Year," Forsythe said he enjoyed socializing with students and picking on them, like he did with his own two daughters, who are now adults.
That socializing went too far, according to one girl's parents, who asked WRAL News not to use their names or show their faces. On Nov. 29, the girl's father contacted Voyager Academy's managing director and showed him emails and records of text messages the 58-year-old principal had sent his 14-year-old daughter and another girl.
Confronted with the evidence the following day, Forsythe admitted sending the "inappropriate emails" and immediately resigned. That wasn't the principal's first time abruptly resigning from a school, and it wouldn't be his last time working with children.
Mother shocked, sick, angry after finding emails
Email records provided to the WRAL Investigates team show that Forsythe emailed the two girls more than 60 times between September and November 2010, and the girls responded about 30 times. Most of the communication happened at night and, sometimes, on the weekends.
Overall, the principal told the girls he loved them more than 25 times, called them "sweetie" or "sweetheart" more than 25 times, said he missed them nearly 10 times and called them "baby," "pretty," "lovely," "beautiful" or "cutie" more than 10 times.
Forsythe's notes became more frequent, more affectionate and more secretive as time went on.
All of the emails came to a halt in late November after a mother borrowed her 14-year-old daughter's computer and came across the emails "by complete chance," she said.
"Her email was logged in," the mother said. "Otherwise, I probably wouldn't have seen them, because I don't go in and check them."
What she found left her feeling shocked, sick and angry, she said. She and her husband also discovered that the principal had sent their daughter more than 70 text messages. The parents could see the dates and times the text messages were sent, but not the content, they said.
"We didn’t know who to go to at the time," the mother said. "After getting over the shock and subsequent horror of them, neither of us knew where to go. I didn’t know if I should call the police. Should I call a lawyer? I was definitely afraid to go to the school, initially, because he’s the principal and he’s well-liked."
The father woke up early the next morning, called the school around 4:30 a.m. and left a message that he needed to speak to an administrator right away.
"If you spend the time in the emails that we have spent, unfortunately, you can see from the beginning of it to where all of this finally broke loose that there was a continuing escalation of activity and interest," the father said.
Principal asks girl to 'keep this very confidential'
The emails began on Sept. 21, 2010, with the couple's daughter asking the principal about a school-related program. He responded, told the girl he was proud of her and ended the communication with "Take care my dear."
The correspondence quickly grew more personal and secretive. On Oct. 11, Forsythe emailed the girl, called her "sweetheart" and shared gossip about another student's relationship.
"I think the young lady who likes (name removed) also likes another boy and very soon will break up with (name removed) so she can start going out with this other boy," the principal wrote. "You must not tell anyone including (name removed) what I just shared...I am totally counting on you to keep this very confidential."
On Oct. 21, Forsythe told the girl she was "truly amazing" and confided that he had sent her teacher an email, asking the teacher to give the girl "extra attention to keep your grades up."
"I know she will take me seriously and help you to get the A you deserve in her class," he wrote.
Forsythe ended the email with "Good night sweetie...and remember...I am always here for you...BFF." The next day, he asked for directions to her sports game and ended with: "Play well my dear...Love you bunches your BFF."
The following afternoon, the girl emailed Forsythe to ask what would be appropriate for her to wear to a specific school function.
"You can wear that really pretty dress," he responded, calling her "baby."
Three days later, on Oct. 26, Forsythe told the girl he loved her and that he realized he needed to stop taking up so much of her time so she could focus on school and her friends. She wrote back that night and thanked him, saying that she was "getting fussed at by the teachers about not being in class alot."
Parents notice changes in their daughter
Teachers began taking note of the girl's falling grades, and her parents began noticing the principal's growing interest in their daughter. They also started seeing unusual changes in her.
"She started to do activities that she wouldn’t normally do, positive activities," her father said. "While it seemed unusual and odd, we could see, as a parent, positive elements for our child."
While their daughter's extracurricular interests skyrocketed, her grades plummeted, unbeknownst to them. She began spending more time with her principal and less time in class.
"He would pull her out of class to discuss drama issues in the school – girl drama, boy drama, girl-boy drama. He would invent tasks for her to do," her mother said. "I think whenever he could come up with a reason."
Forsythe also encouraged the girl to participate in specific activities at the school, which he was also a part of, so "we can continue to work together almost every day," he wrote.
Teachers and other students started noticing the principal's and girl's close relationship as well. On Oct. 27, Forsythe sent an email to the girl, saying that other students were jealous she got to spend so much time with him.
"The reason a few girls are saying something to you about being out of class and spending time with me is simple... They are jealous and would do anything to trade places with you," he wrote. "You are very special to me for all the right reasons ... I am very attached to you and that will only end if you want it to... That would be a very bad day for me I can promise."
He ended the note by telling the girl to delete all his emails and empty her email's trash bin, a request he made often when writing to her. Other emails included the lines "delete all my messages," "keep these comments confidential and delete" and "READ and DELETE twice!"
His emails became more effusive and loving as the days went on, telling the girl his only role in life was to "work magic" with her and that she should recognize she had a principal wrapped around her finger. "Don't take it for granted my dear!" he wrote.
Forsythe sent the girl another email on Nov. 3, saying he was saddened that she appeared to be pulling back from him. "I care a great deal for you ... You are a very special lady," he wrote.
He emailed her again on Nov. 4 and 5, with no apparent response from the girl. Still, he continued to proclaim his affection for her with notes that included: "You are special" and "Love you girl."
Principal thanks girl for hugs, promises gifts
Nov. 14 marked the first time the principal talked about physical contact with the girl, saying she brought him "such happiness with your smile and on a rare occasion, a hug."
Six days later, he wrote about driving with the girl in his car and giving her presents.
"Hey sweetheart ... I really liked having you ride shotgun next to me Friday night... It was very special for me for you to take that spot in the front seat," he wrote. "I love you and my only task right now is taking care of you."
Later in the email, the principal said he was glad she and another girl liked the gifts he gave them, which included a necklace and gift card to a clothing store, Hollister, according to the girl's mother.
"You actually coming over hugging me made my night because ... I knew you were happy and very grateful. My Xmas gifts to you both will be far nicer than these gifts to thank you for being the two girls I care about the most at Voyager ... I luv you sweetie..Ed," he wrote.
Riding in the principal's car became a more common topic as "he repeatedly offered to drive her places," according to the girl's mother. Concerned about the amount of time her daughter was spending with Forsythe, the mother decided to see what she could find out about the principal.
"I researched a little about who this person was, and I basically just saw a lot of credentials, a lot of awards, a lot of respect in the community," she said. "There’s a Facebook page dedicated to him with a lot of people on there – a lot – all calling him the 'Best Principal Ever.' So, as a parent, I looked at that and said, ‘Oh well, perhaps my suspicions are unwarranted. Perhaps I’m paranoid. Perhaps my creep-o-meter is off.’"
Around the same time Forsythe was emailing her daughter, he was also exchanging emails with another eighth-grade girl at school. Near the end of October, the girl emailed him to say: "Hey eddie i am sick today:(" He responded and sent three follow-up emails that day, checking on her.
"I am so sorry sweetheart...I really hope you feel better because I miss you...Love you! Eddie"
Over the course of three months, Forsythe called the girl "ladybug," "cutie," "sweetheart" and "baby" and told her he loved her and missed her more than a dozen times.
WRAL News contacted the girl's family. They said they had no comment.
The principal told both girls he was attached to them and that he "could not stand it if I did not hang out with you both at least 1-2 times a day." The girls' replies to Forsythe were almost always short.
"I don't even think she knew what was going on," the mother said. "By the end of it, she wasn't even responding to the emails."
Principal leaves Voyager, continues working with children
Once Forsythe left Voyager Academy, Durham police looked into the case and determined that nothing criminal had occurred, so no charges were filed. One girl's parents got a restraining order against him to make sure he left their daughter alone, but they said they were surprised to learn he was working with children again.
Forsythe got a part-time job with Granville County on Jan. 24, working with the county's 4-H troubled teen program. His job was overseeing youth who had been assigned to community service through the court system.
Granville County Human Resources Director Justin Ayscue said that, if he had known about the restraining order against Forsythe, he would have asked the former principal for details.
"I would have had to accept whatever explanation he gave me as truth, because a restraining order does not prove guilt or innocence," Ayscue said. "Anyone can take out a restraining order on anyone else, without proof of any wrongdoing ... Using the restraining order in and of itself could have been construed as discriminatory."
Forsythe also took a job as a substitute teacher in Granville County Schools. He left both jobs after someone notified his employers about what happened at Voyager Academy. Granville County Schools officials said he was also removed from their substitute list because his teaching license was revoked.
Restraining orders, like the one filed against Forsythe, do not show up on background checks and are filed in civil court, along with things like divorces and tax liens. Background Investigation Bureau Inc., which performed a criminal background search on Forsythe, said its search does not include civil records.
"Had the civil injunction filed against Edward Forsythe (risen) to the level of criminal activity, it would have been reported to our client," said director of operations Ken Monroe.
Background check veteran Kevin Von der Lippe, with Capital Associate Industries, says civil checks can expose irrelevant, even discriminatory information, on a potential hire. Calling references, he says, is often the best way to uncover problems.
Forsythe's Granville County employers said they never called Voyager Academy's superintendent for a reference check. Superintendent Carl Forsyth, who is a distant relative of his former principal, said if the new employers had called, he would have told them Ed Forsythe resigned abruptly. However, he could not add more due to privacy laws.
That wasn't the first time Ed Forsythe resigned abruptly. Voyager Academy hired him after he suddenly resigned as principal of Creekside Elementary School in Durham in 2007. Ed Forsythe said a staff member made a sexual harassment allegation against him, which he believes was in retaliation for his complaints about her work. He decided to leave the school.
Principal: 'I pose no risk to any child'
Ed Forsythe says he regrets his actions "every single day" and blames his poor decisions on depression.
"My decision-making at that time was very clouded," he said. "That’s not an excuse, but I know that I am still in the throes of (depression) right now and working towards getting better."
The former principal insists that he poses "no risk to any child" and that he simply enjoyed kidding around with students.
"Those who know me know how I pick and kid with my own kids and the kids who I see in my church or at the playground. I just have always done that," he said.
Forsythe came under scrutiny again for directing his church's youth choir after leaving Voyager Academy. An anonymous note was sent to the church, warning them about his past behavior.
"At what point is it invasion of privacy?" Forsythe said. "I feel like, even at this moment right now, that none of this should be necessary. I did exactly what was asked of me. I resigned immediately."
Still, Forsythe decided to stop leading the youth choir. He said he is not working with children at this time and doesn't plan to in the future.
"If the Lord wants me to do other things related to young people, He will guide me in that direction, but that’s not my plan right now," he said.
The former principal, who says he is still dealing with depression, is undergoing Christian counseling with his pastor. If he had an opportunity to talk with the two girls and their families, he would apologize.
"If I had them here right now, I would tell them and their families how sorry I am over and over and over," he said. "These are great kids. They are leaders, and I hold them in such great respect. I’m just sorry I failed them as their principal. I’m just so sorry I failed them."
Forsythe, who calls his actions "immature, childish and unprofessional," says he wants the public to judge him on his entire career, not just the past year.
"I want people to try to think about the good Ed Forsythe has done for 37 years," he said. "I don’t want people to judge me based on the negative and the poor decision-making. I want their forgiveness, but I want them to also recognize that I hope I’ve impacted the lives of a lot of children."
Parents encourage others to speak out
The name "Ed Forsythe" still elicits a strong reaction from the parents of the 14-year-old girl who received most of the principal's attention. The girl's mother says she feels sick and angry just hearing his name.
"He was trying to get closer to (my daughter). I don't want to think about what his end plan was, but it wasn't good and it wasn't appropriate," she said.
The girl's father had a similar reaction. "My stomach is turning at the sounds of those (emails) again," he said. The parents say they've had two priorities since finding the emails and text messages.
"One was to make sure our daughter was OK, and second of all was to see that he didn’t have an opportunity to do this again to somebody else," the father said.
They say schools need to do a better job of vetting employees.
In February 2010, a task force created by State Superintendent June Atkinson submitted a report to the State Board of Education about teacher ethics and licensure, entitled "Raising the Bar for North Carolina Teachers."
The girl's parents say even more needs to be done.
"The education system as a whole could further step up their training and awareness and lack of tolerance for not reporting suspected behavior," the father said.
"They should speak out. It’s the right thing to do. Ultimately, it’s the best thing to do," the mother added. "I’m hoping that (Forsythe) is not allowed to teach kids anymore. We’re hoping this isn’t happening to other girls."