Local News

Investigation alleges grade changing, sex offender on staff at Fayetteville private school

Posted May 20, 2015 5:36 p.m. EDT
Updated May 20, 2015 11:07 p.m. EDT

— An investigation that began with allegations that a registered sex offender was working at a Fayetteville private school now includes accusations that administrators changed grades based on whether they liked or disliked a particular student, the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office said.

Deputies executed a search warrant at Freedom Christian Academy on Gillespie Street on Wednesday. Investigators 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.

“Upon execution of the search warrant this morning, school officials were cooperative and provided documentary evidence and computer files as well as oral statements which corroborated the allegations of the sex offender registration act violation and grade changing,” the sheriff’s office said in a statement.

The investigation started after an unidentified parent withdrew her children from the school after discovering that the head of school, Joan Dayton, knowingly allowed Paul Conner, a convicted sex offender, to work at the school during the 2011-12 academic year while Conner’s wife was a teacher, the sheriff’s office said.

Conner, 50, of Mosswood Lane in Fayetteville, received five years probation after being convicted of indecent liberties with a minor and sexual offense with certain victims in Robeson County in 2001. The offense occurred in 1994, and the victim was 8 years old at the time, according to the state sex offender registry.

Dayton, in a statement to school families Wednesday night, said Conner was never employed by the school.

"What we again explained to the officers was that a husband of one of our former teachers had been convicted but was on campus to help his wife fix up her room after school hours and build some shelving for us that he delivered, again, after hours," she wrote. "We also tried to address the accusation that grades were changed by (administrators) and teachers for multiple reasons and that charge was found to be untrue by our school board after hours of study but they gave us only a moment to speak to them."

After the parent withdrew her children, she asked to be released from paying a withdrawal fee and a fee to have her children’s records transferred to their new school, the sheriff’s office said.

“The head of the school refused that demand, and insisted upon the payment and insisted that although Conner was still on the sex offender registration list and had entered a guilty plea to a sexual offense against a minor, Conner had changed and had been ‘wrongfully convicted,’” the sheriff’s office 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.”

No arrests or charges have been filed as of Wednesday.

School leaders say they've done nothing wrong.

"I've said before that the right to accuse is a powerful weapon," Dayton wrote. "Both (Head of Operations Hall Powers) and I hate the fact that our beloved school and the folks who work and attend here may be put in awkward situations where they feel they have to try and defend. We have to let the legal process work itself out as painful as it may be and be patient as we wait upon the Lord to reveal the truth."