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Former NHCS teacher found guilty of sexual offenses against students, attorneys say civil case heading to trial

Former NHCS teacher Peter Michael Frank, courtesy of the New Hanover County detention center.
Former NHCS teacher Peter Michael Frank, courtesy of the New Hanover County detention center.

A Bladen County jury found Peter Michael Frank guilty on seventeen counts of sexual offenses involving three former students of Roland-Grise Middle School in the early 2000s. Plaintiffs' attorneys who filed suit in 2020 say their case is now headed to trial.

On Tuesday afternoon, after less than an hour of deliberation, the jury found Frank guilty of a host of charges, including first-degree sexual offense, statutory sex offense with a person 13, 14, or 15, sexual activity with a student, and multiple counts of indecent liberties with children and students. According to WECT, sentencing is scheduled for Thursday at 10 a.m.

Frank was arrested in January 2020. Shortly afterward, an 'independent civil investigation' into allegations of a cover-upwas launched by two law firms that were already litigating a civil case against the New Hanover County Schools district on behalf of the victims and alleged victims of former teacher Michael Earl Kelly. By April of 2020, those firms hadfiled a second suit against NHCS, this time on behalf of two Jane Does, allegedly victims of Frank. A third Jane Doe plaintiff was later added.

Shortly after today's jury verdict, attorneys for the Rhine Law Firm, P.C, and the Lea/Schultz Law Firm, P.C confirmed that their civil case would be moving forward, citing evidence from Frank’s criminal trial that, for them, indicated culpability by the school district.

In a release, the firms wrote, “As was made evident in the trial, New Hanover County administrators were aware of the inappropriate relationships between Frank and one of his students as far back as the 1999-2000 year. In fact, a principal at Roland-Grise at the time noted in a November 1999 letter to Frank that his behavior was ‘inappropriate and inexcusable,’ claiming to place the letter in his personnel file, according to news reports. Despite that testimony, Frank was allowed to continue teaching within New Hanover County Schools for some 20 years.”

Attorney Joel Rhine said, “[t]oday’s verdict is not against the school board, but it is against the predator who carried out his abuse while under the supervision and control of New Hanover County Schools.”

Attorney Jim Lea added, “[t]his is just another example of where our district has failed our students and continues to do so by not taking the appropriate steps to help these survivors rather than focus on elections and reporting designed to provide cover to the district in the event of future cases.”

The law firms said the Frank civil case will now head to trial. They also noted that the Kelly civil case is set for trial on September 26 of this year and “and there are no signs that it will be continued [i.e. delayed]. The trial is expected to last six to eight weeks, and include more than 60 witnesses.”

Editor's note: While NHCS has historically refrained from commenting on pending or active litigation, WHQR has reached out to the district for comment and will include any response.