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CAPE FEAR MEMORIAL BRIDGE: Updates, resources, and context

School board chair marks official end to Kelly lawsuit by re-reading a previous statement

New Hanover County Board of Education Chairman Pete Wildeboer at the podium. Behind him, from left: Board members Hugh McManus, Stephanie Walker, Melissa Mason, Pat Bradford, Superintendent Dr. Charles Faust, Josie Barnhart, and Stephanie Kraybill.
Benjamin Schachtman
/
WHQR
New Hanover County Board of Education Chairman Pete Wildeboer at the podium. Behind him, from left: Board members Hugh McManus, Stephanie Walker, Melissa Mason, Pat Bradford, Superintendent Dr. Charles Faust, Josie Barnhart, and Stephanie Kraybill.

Ahead of Tuesday night's meeting, New Hanover County Board of Education Chairman Pete Wildeboer held a press conference to read a near-verbatim copy of a statement first issued in early June, when the district originally announced a $5.75-million settlement with 14 young men who had been sexually abused by former teacher Michael Earl Kelly.

Flanked by fellow board members, Chairman Pete Wildeboer read a statement regarding the $5.75-million settlement with 14 young men who were sexually abused by a former teacher of the year, Michael Earl Kelly, who was sentenced to at least 16 years in prison after pleading guilty to over 50 counts of sexual abuse and misconduct in the summer of 2019.

“We, the members of the New Hanover County Board of Education, want to publicly acknowledge the suffering that the John Doe plaintiffs have endured as a result of Michael Kelly's abuse, and to express our sincere hope that the resolution provided by the Settlement Agreement will support these young men in their healing process. The board also reaffirmed its commitment to improving its policies and practices in an effort to ensure that nothing like this ever happens again," Wildeboer said.

Wildeboer said the settlement agreement and release of all past, present, and future claims by the plaintiffs was fully executed on July 27.

It’s worth noting that several former New Hanover County schools employees have been charged, and in several cases convicted, of sexual abuse and misconduct — and the district is still being sued by young women who were abused by former teacher Peter Michael Frank, who was sentenced to at least 50 years in prison last summer. There is also an ongoing criminal investigation into the district, stemming from the handling of Kelly's behavior, currently being reviewed by the office of Attorney General Josh Stein.

Wildeboer’s statement was almost completely identical to a statement released by the board on June 9, when the settlement was first announced (it omitted the phrase "both our sorrow for that pain and" before "our sincere hope").

He did not discuss specifics on what policies and practices the district would be looking at — and did not take questions following his statement, saying he would answer them later.

A district spokesperson said questions couldn't be answered following the brief remarks, given at 4:30 p.m., since staff wanted to begin allowing the public in from outside to attend to board's regular meeting, which began at 5 p.m.

Ben Schachtman is a journalist and editor with a focus on local government accountability. He began reporting for Port City Daily in the Wilmington area in 2016 and took over as managing editor there in 2018. He’s a graduate of Rutgers College and later received his MA from NYU and his PhD from SUNY-Stony Brook, both in English Literature. He loves spending time with his wife and playing rock'n'roll very loudly. You can reach him at BSchachtman@whqr.org and find him on Twitter @Ben_Schachtman.