WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — Lawyers representing victims of former New Hanover County teacher Michael Kelly have filed another class action lawsuit against the New Hanover County Board of Education, this time on behalf of victims of former Roland Grise teacher Peter Frank.
In March, Frank was indicted on 17 counts, including first-degree sexual offense, statutory sex offense with a person who is 13, 14, or 15, sexual activity with a student, indecent liberties with a child, and indecent liberties with a student.
The lawsuit, filed in New Hanover County Superior Court, alleges that Frank sexually assaulted and exploited two named plaintiffs while they were students in middle school.
It also seeks class action certification on behalf of all of Frank’s victims, many of whom were aged 12 to 14 years old at the time and span some two decades.
The victims are identified as Jane Does 1 and 2 to help protect their identities.
“Law enforcement officers discovered materials that indicated that administrators within New Hanover County Schools were aware of numerous inappropriate relationships between Frank and his early teenage female victims for years,” the lawsuit states.
As early as 1999, a letter was placed in Frank’s personnel file after he took a student to his home to play video games for several hours.
In 2013, another letter was placed in his file after he made a ‘sexually suggestive’ social media post toward a student who was pictured online wearing a bathing suit. In th post, Frank allegedly wrote, “I can’t say what I want to say, but it might rhyme with lubes.”
Warrants also provide further details of Frank’s alleged sexual involvement with students, either at his home or at school.
“Once again, our community faces chilling allegations that another predator was allowed to lurk within our schools for years preying on innocent young lives,” said Joel Rhine, of the Rhine Law Firm, P.C., one of the firms handling the cases.
The lawsuit claims that an investigation should have been reported to authorities, who would have taken action that would have resulted in Frank’s arrest, leading to his termination, which would have saved multiple students from being victimized.
Frank is currently in the New Hanover County Detention Center awaiting trial. He is the third New Hanover County Schools employee in the last two years to be charged with sex crimes involving students.
Nicholas Oates, a former Myrtle Grove Middle School teacher’s assistant charged with sexually abusing a minor in 2018, died while awaiting trial. Former teacher Michael Kelly pleaded guilty to 59 counts of child sex crimes in June 2019 and was sentenced to up to 31 years in prison.
Attorneys representing Kelly’s victims filed a lawsuit against the school board and school administrators in July. It has since been amended to include a total of 10 victims.
“At this point, the community is well aware of the allegations involving the mishandling of
investigations and the lack of discipline and ownership taken with respect to preventing teacher-student sexual abuse by school administrators. The time has come for the Board of Education to step up and acknowledge its commitment to its mission of providing a safe and positive learning environment for students, as is stated in Board Policy 1100,” said Martin Ramey, another attorney with the Rhine Law Firm.
Victims in both suits argue that it is time for the Board to acknowledge their injuries and to consider addressing how best to assist the victims with the counseling and assistance that they need.
“One of the many unfortunate consequences of the School Board’s conduct, is that with each denial they make, they force the victims to relive their trauma. We are going to look back years from now and remember this is the time that we ended the culture that allowed children to be abused,” stated Ryan Schultz, a partner at The Lea/Schultz Law Firm, from another one of the firms handling this case.
In the past few months, New Hanover County Schools Assistant Superintendent Rick Holliday, Superintendent Tim Markley, General Counsel Wayne Bullard and Head of Human Resources John Whelmers have all resigned.
WWAY reached out to the district regarding this latest lawsuit. New Hanover County Schools Spokeswoman Ann Gibson said New Hanover County Schools has no comment at this time.