School system terminates mentoring contract after allegations of inappropriate relationship between mentor and student in Winston-Salem/Forsyth District | Education

The Winston-Salem/Forsyth County School District terminated a $1.4 million contract with Action4Equity for a pilot program that put mentors in four schools after school officials discovered that one mentors was accused of having an inappropriate relationship with a student.

The Winston-Salem Police Department is investigating, but no criminal charges have been filed.

In December, the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County School Board unanimously approved spending $1.4 million in federal COVID relief funds to start the program. Superintendent Tricia McManus had recommended the program, which put community members in schools to work with students as mentors. Action4Equity, a local non-profit organization focused on equity in the school system, was to oversee the program and contract with two grassroots community groups committed to helping at-risk youth. The program followed a school year rocked by violence and other student behavior issues, including a fatal shooting at Mount Tabor Secondary School in September.

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On June 30, the school system terminated the contract. And on Wednesday, school officials informed parents of the approximately 200 students participating in the program at four schools — Paisley and Philo-Hill Middle Schools and Parkland and Reynolds High Schools — of the school system’s decision and that there are had a police investigation.

Action4Equity officials issued a press release on Tuesday evening defending the mentorship program but declining to say whether the contract had been terminated. In an email, the Reverend Paul Robeson Ford declined to answer questions about the status of the contract, and Action4Equity did not comment on why the contract was terminated.

“I would direct all questions about the status of our contract to WSFCS,” Ford said in the email. “We are not free to discuss details regarding the alleged incidents as an investigation is ongoing.”

In a June 30 letter to Kellie Easton, president and CEO of Action4Equity, Dionne Jenkins, general counsel for the school system, said Superintendent Tricia McManus had been a “strong advocate” for Action4Equity’s programs, but that the nonprofit was violating its agreement with the school system.

“Information submitted to WS/FCS demonstrates that Action4Equity terminated a mentor on Monday, June 20 for allegedly having an inappropriate relationship with a student at the school the mentor was serving,” Jenkins wrote. “Unfortunately, the mentor’s termination and the reasons therefor were not shared with WS/FCS in a timely or appropriate manner.”

Jenkins said it violated school board policies and “will not be tolerated by the WSFCS.”

“We have reason to believe that the mentor also violated other WS/FCS policies and procedures, including those relating to student transportation,” Jenkins said. “Additionally, public records show that the mentor was recently charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor. On information and belief, the child involved in the criminal charge is part of the mentoring program and is a different child than the one that led to the termination of the policy by Action4Equity.

At 6:21 p.m. Tuesday, Action4Equity officials posted their press release on the group’s Facebook page. The nonprofit’s website was down with a message that it would launch a new website soon.

“Nothing is more important to us than the safety of our students and the safety of our children whom we fight for daily and for whom we are so privileged to serve as part of the EMP (Embedded Mentoring Program)”, said Action4Equity in its news. Release.

The Journal asked Ford why he couldn’t say whether the contract had been terminated and why he was referring that specific question to the school system. Ford did not respond to this question or to requests for additional comment on the school system’s allegations. Action4Equity declined to comment via a Facebook message.

The Journal was able to confirm by two different sources the name of the mentor, who is accused of having helped a 14-year-old to access a Vape on June 21, according to an arrest warrant. The mentor was arrested on that charge on June 24, according to the arrest warrant. Brent Campbell, spokesperson for the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County School System, said he could not confirm the name of the mentor and referred questions to Action4Equity. Action4Equity declined to comment when asked for the name of the mentor.

It appears the mentor was assigned to Philo-Hill Middle School. The Journal asked Christina Howell, spokeswoman for the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office, if the agency investigated a report of a Philo-Hill student being sexually abused. Howell said the sheriff’s office began investigating but the Winston-Salem Police Department took over.

Kira Boyd, spokesperson for the Winston-Salem Police Department, said in an email that she could not confirm whether the police department was investigating an allegation involving Action4Equity. She referred the questions to the school system.

Action4Equity’s press release referred to social media rumors and misrepresentations. When asked what facts had been misrepresented, Ford said, “All staff who were hired to serve in the Integrated Mentorship Program had to pass two rounds of employment background checks before they began working with students: one led by Action4Equity and another. led by the WSFCS.

In a Facebook chat group, Katie Sonnen-Lee, who is listed as Vice President of Action4Equity on her IRS Form 990 for 2021, replied to someone else that “all appropriate protocols were in place and all procedures and reports have been carried out correctly and the appropriate entities are investigating. It’s awful, but there’s no corruption.

Jeremy S. McLain