NORTON — The city school board is looking to the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police for help as it continues to confront criticism and allegations that the high school head football coach has sexually harassed female students.
The Norton police chief, meanwhile, has asked the Virginia State Police to handle any investigations in reference to the coach.
On Friday, Norton School Board took action at a quickly called special meeting that lasted less than two minutes.
The board voted unanimously to engage the chiefs of police group as an independent contractor "to provide experienced personnel to provide investigative and consultative assistance to school administration in the performance of personnel-related and other public educational agency investigative functions" and to authorize its chairman to execute such an agreement.
The meeting was announced just before lunch for 5 p.m. the same day. Asked before the meeting where and when the idea for a special session originated, Chairman Cody McElroy messaged that it "came about today per legal counsel recommendation."
McElroy and city schools Superintendent Gina Wohlford declined questions after the meeting but produced a prepared statement assuring that administration and the school board "take seriously any student complaint directed at the behavior or conduct of any employee . . . Complaints of misconduct will not be ignored by the division and the division will continue to investigate such complaints fairly, carefully, and fully as those complaints are communicated to school administration.
"The division investigates specific complaints of alleged employee misconduct, without regard to when the alleged misconduct occurred."
The statement also said complaints will be investigated "in a manner that allows us to reach a fair and considered conclusion, considering and balancing the interests of our students and their safety and well-being and the rights of any employee subject to a complaint or allegation."
The statement reiterated that the board and administration can't discuss details of student and personnel matters and investigations in order to protect student confidentiality and employee privacy, and because of other legal constraints.
The statement also notes that Norton City Schools has established mandatory Title IX training as part of the beginning of the year professional development for all faculty and staff. Title IX, part of a federal civil rights law, protects against sex discrimination in education programs.
The school division has been dealing with public outcry on a variety of levels since Wohlford notified Burton Raiders head football Coach Jim Adams three weeks ago of the administration's intent to not recommend renewal of his coaching contract.
At a meeting June 10, the board heard not just from his supporters but also from two former students alleging the high school history teacher sexually harassed them when they were younger and that they aren't the only ones.
The coach denies the accusations. His family and some board members say the complaints have been investigated and deemed unfounded.
Although poised to do just the opposite, the board ultimately voted unanimously to renew Adams' coaching contract, going against the recommendation of the leadership team of principals and assistant principals as well as the superintendent. Without making any reference to the action, the board also reassigned Adams to unspecified teaching duty at the elementary school.