Carolina Friends alumni say former principal abused students
In a stunning announcement Wednesday, officials at Carolina Friends Schools acknowledged that four students have accused a former principal of sexually abusing them in the principal’s office between 1969 and 1975.¬
Officials said the allegations against former principal Harold Jernigan involved inappropriate touching of the four students, who were in elementary school and middle school.
Additionally, another student accused former teacher Charles Williams Butcher of inappropriate touching in 1976, a charge to which current principal Mike Hanas said Butcher confessed.
“I talked to the other individual [Butcher] last Friday and he admitted his wrongdoing,” Hanas said.
He said Butcher responded forthrightly to questions about the abuse and showed remorse.
Hanas said Butcher also agreed to participate in an inquiry the school launched with help of leading experts on child abuse and sexual misconduct and has volunteered to work toward reconciliation with his victim if that is the victim’s desire.
“He made it clear that he would not refute this charge and that he is willing to participate in any form of reconciliation with the alum,” Hanas said.
The school’s inquiry was led by attorneys Gina Smith and Leslie Gomez, both with the Philadelphia-based firm of Pepper Hamilton. Smith was hired by UNC Chapel Hill last year to help the university manage its sexual assault crisis.
School officials have not been able to reach Jernigan Hanas said he is confident but not certain that, through family and friends Jernigan, is aware of the allegations and knows the school wants to speak with him about the charges.
The information gathered by the school with the help of the experts has been shared with the Orange County Sheriff’s Office, which believes the statute of limitations may preclude criminal prosecution because the allegations would only have amounted to a misdemeanor during the period they occurred.
There is no statute of limitations for felony offenses in North Carolina.
Hanas said the charges have been on the school’s radar since about 2003 but really became pervasive in 2012, prompting the school to launch its investigation.
He said the five alums at the center of the allegations wanted to ensure that Carolina Friends is taking steps to ensure that such abuse never occurs again.
In a letter to the Carolina Friends community, officials wrote that he school has “undertaken an ongoing, comprehensive review of our policies and practices with respect to the protection of our students.”
Hanas said there is no record of complaints against Jernigan or Butcher during the period of the alleged abuse.
“What we know is that no school official received specific allegations of abuse at the time,” Hanas said.
Given the nature of sexual abuse, Hanas said he expects more victims will come forward once the story gets out.
“I expect there will be more, given what we know about the nature of this kind of abuse and how it affects communities,” Hanas said.
When asked about the possible negative blowback of going public with the allegations, Hanas said the school is committed to transparency and doing right by the five alums, regardless of the consequences.
“That is consistent with our values,” Hanas said. “We believe in the pursuit of truth, integrity and embracing tensions rather than avoiding them.”
Carolina Friends School opened in 1964 and was founded by members of the Religious Society of Friends or Quakers.
It serves about 490 students ages 3 to 18.