Durham County

Southern High worker fired after accusation of inappropriate interaction with student

An employee at the Southern School of Energy and Sustainability accused of engaging in "inappropriate interaction" with a student has been fired.

Durham Public Schools officials didn't provide many details, but said the inappropriate interaction did not include a sexual relationship.

The employee, who was fired on March 6, has 30 days to appeal the dismissal.

School officials said a copy of the termination letter becomes a public record after the 30 days have expired.

Southern SES Principal Jerome Leathers issued a statement on Friday, March 9, discussing the district's response to the employee's dismissal.

“Our teachers and staff give 110 percent to our students every day," Leathers wrote. "We also take appropriate action if one of our employees fails to live up to Board Policy. Our Southern SES community deserves nothing less. We will continue to hold ourselves accountable and do whatever it takes to support our students’ mental, emotional, and educational development.”

The fired employee was a non-licensed employee. Also known as classified employees, non-licensed employees include teacher assistants, bus drivers and cafeteria workers and employees whose job does not require them to hold a professional license.

The incident was first investigated by the school district's human resources department but turned over to law enforcement officials last week.

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Meanwhile, investigators with the Durham County Sheriff's Office continue to look into an incident at the school in which two students are believed to have been recorded on video having sex in the school’s weight room.

DPS officials said the reportedly consensual sexual activity between the male student and female student may have occurred Feb. 20. DPS began to investigate after administrators received a report about the incident.

Investigators are also looking into whether the recording of the two students was shared with other students, as has been rumored, and whether it was made without the female student’s consent.

DPS considers the transmission of any “sexually explicit messages or any nude, partially nude, sexually explicit or sexually suggestive photographs, video recordings, or other visual depictions of themselves or others” a Level II offense with possible penalties that include in-school interventions, in-school discipline, short-term suspension of no longer than 10 days and possible long-term suspension (with aggravating factors) lasting more than 10 days.

Students are also warned in the Student Code of Conduct that “transmission of such images or messages to, among, or depicting minors may cause grave psychological or emotional harm and may violate state or federal child pornography laws, even when sent or received consensually.”

Anyone who downloads or shares such a video could face federal charges under U.S. law that “prohibits the production, distribution, reception, and possession of an image of child pornography using or affecting any means or facility of interstate or foreign commerce.”

Greg Childress: 919-419-6645, @gchild6645

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