The Deputy Superintendent of New Hanover County Schools has resigned less than a week after the sheriff indicated an investigation into claims that the district was warned about a teacher sexually abusing students yet failed to act.
That teacher, Michael Kelly, has since been convicted of nearly 60 sex crime charges spanning over two decades and involving at least 20 children. The abuse took place while Kelly taught at Isaac Bear Early College High School and Laney High. At the time, Deputy Superintendent Rick Holliday was the principal at Laney High.
Kelly pleaded guilty on Tuesday, June 25 and was sentenced by Judge John Nobles to 16 to 24 years in prison on the most serious charge of first-degree Sexual Exploitation of a minor and Statutory Sex Offense with a child. Nobles added a sentence of 20-84 months (up to 7 years) to be served following completion of the first sentence for Kelly’s additional 57 charges which were consolidated for judgment
During those court proceedings, Prosecutor Connie Jordan described allegations made by Kelly that the school district was aware of his abusive behavior with a student. The next day New Hanover County District Attorney’s Office confirmed that the sheriff’s office had opened an investigation into the matter.
Less then a week later on July 1, Deputy Superintendent Holliday submitted his resignation to the district and the announcement was posted to the NHCS website:
Deputy Superintendent Dr. Rick Holliday announced today that he is retiring from New Hanover County Schools effective August 1, 2019.
He has been an educator for 41 years and has served the district for 37 years in various capacities.
“I have enjoyed my time with New Hanover County Schools. I have always done my best. As I plan to retire, I wish the citizens of New Hanover County well,” Dr. Holliday stated.
Holliday has been named in the investigation by at least two sets of parents who complained about Kelly and other teacher behavior, according to Port City Daily. The parents allege Holliday did nothing and that Holliday did not report the complaints to the district.
A joint statement released by New Hanover District Attorney Ben David and Sheriff Ed McMahon says that the State Bureau of Investigation (SBI) has been asked to take over the investigation and that additional information has been uncovered.
According to Star News Online, a statement released by D.A. Ben David said says that FBI agents questioned Kelly immediately prior to his arrest and that Kelly made comments about “an internal investigation that the school administration had allegedly performed that Kelly claimed cleared him of any wrongdoing.”
On the heels of the SBI being brought in, the New Hanover School Board has changed its tune about not having ‘the authority’ to investigate the matter internally. The school board had maintained that position for the better part of the last six months.
“To reiterate prior statements from the district, the New Hanover County Board of Education strongly and completely condemns the actions of Michael Earl Kelly who pled guilty last week to numerous crimes,” said School Board Chairwoman Lisa Estep in a statement.
“The Board expresses our sorrow to all the victims and their families affected by Kelly’s heinous acts. In light of allegations made against New Hanover County Schools during the recent sentencing of Kelly, the NHC Board of Education has launched an internal investigation into incidents that allegedly occurred in 2006. We will continue to fully cooperate with any and all ongoing investigations. Once the investigations are complete, we will take appropriate action,” said Estep.
The board has refused to comment on whether or not Holliday’s resignation is related to the SBI investigation. The district’s superintendent, Tim Markley, has been silent on the Kelly case and Holliday’s resignation. Markley was named regional superintendent of the year in May.
Kelly was first charged in early February of 2018 at the age of 48. The first round of charges included third-degree sexual exploitation of a minor, and three counts of indecent liberties with a student. At his first hearing, Kelly was assigned a $100,000 bond.
According to the original arrest warrant, Kelly allegedly possessed images of a 15-year-old victim. The images were graphic and included “engaging in sexual activity consisting of holding his erect penis in his hand.”
New Hanover County schools suspended Kelly without pay after his arrest, but in early March of 2018, the district terminated his employment. Superintendent Tim Markley said the dismissal process began after Kelly was arrested in February.
Just a few months after his original arrest, more victims were identified and 34 more charges added. But by April, the charge count grew to 59 when 7 more victims of Kelly’s were identified.
A $1.5 million was placed on Michael Kelly in April but records show that it has since been increased to $2.1 million. Kelly remained incarcerated at the New Hanover County Detention Facility throughout his trial.
In June of 2018, seven principals and five assistant principals abruptly resigned, including those at Isaac Bear Elementary where Kelly had worked.
Late in December of 2018, a report compiled by the Southern Coalition for Equal Protections Under the Law (SCEPUL) accused New Hanover Public Schools officials of covering up sexual abuse cases and racial discrimination. One of the cases of sexual misconduct that SCEPUL highlighted was that of Michael Kelly.
Despite being fired and convicted of nearly 60 sex crimes involving students, Kelly’s NC teaching license is still valid and active.
The NC teacher licensing revocation and the disciplinary action page has not been updated since March.
Sources inside the Dept. of Public Instruction have reported that Supt. Johnson has dozens of unexecuted license revocations sitting on his desk. Inquiries asking for confirmation of this claim have thus far gone unanswered by the Dept. of Public Instruction.