Investigation underway into allegations of sex offender working at Cumberland County private school

Andrea Blanford Image
Thursday, May 21, 2015
Sex offender allegedly allowed to work at school
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A Cumberland County private school is now at the center of a criminal investigation.

FAYETTEVILLE (WTVD) -- A Cumberland County private school is now at the center of a criminal investigation.

Investigators said School Director Joan Dayton at Freedom Christian Academy allowed a registered sex offender to work on campus during the 2011-2012 school year.

The Cumberland County Sheriff's Department has been investigating the allegations for a couple of months. Wednesday, they searched the school looking for evidence.

According to sheriff's investigators, a parent of students at the private Christian school complained that the husband of a teacher there is a convicted sex offender, who was allowed to work at the school.

The sheriff's department identified that person as Paul Conner, who pleaded guilty to a sex offense with a minor in 1994.

Sheriff's investigators are also looking into allegations of grade tampering for athletes and "favored" students to increase reported levels of achievement at the school.

The sheriff's department said school officials volunteered school records and statements corroborating both allegations during their search Wednesday.

So far, no charges have been filed and no indictments have been handed up.

In a phone call, School Board chair Kirsten Brunson denied both allegations saying the board looked into the grade tampering allegations last fall and found no evidence of grade changing.

She also said Conner never worked for the school, but helped his wife after classes, and had no contact with students. She said Conner's wife's contract was not renewed.

The school released a public statement late Thursday afternoon:

At approximately 10 a.m. on May 20, 2015, the Cumberland County Sheriff's Department conducted a search warrant on Freedom Christian Academy's premises as part of an ongoing investigation into a violation of the Sex Offender Registration Act and student grade changing. Administrators from the school cooperated with the search and provided any and all information requested. The school's administration was not aware of the ongoing investigation until detectives showed up on the morning of May 20th. The school's administration notified the Board of Directors of the executed search warrant.

The Board of Directors and School Board of Advisors have scheduled a joint meeting for the evening of May 21th to discuss their actions in regards to the ongoing investigation and to the allegation of the Sex Offender Registration Act violation. The School Board has previously investigated the allegation of grade changing and it was determined that these allegations were unfounded. A subcommittee of the board conducted a detailed investigation and review, and results were provided to the entire school board the next week.

The Board of Directors and the School Board take protection of the children entrusted to the school very seriously. In regards to the allegations of the violation of the sex offender registration act, the registered sex offender was not an employee of the school. The registered sex offender was a spouse of a former teacher. The violations are alleged to have occurred in 2011-2012 and not in 2015.

The chairperson of the School Board, Kirsten Brunson, appreciates the seriousness of these allegations and will ask the Board of Directors and School Board to take appropriate steps to address the situation in a timely manner. Additionally, Chairperson Brunson will request an immediate review of the current policies and procedures in regards to visitor management.

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