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Parent criticizes Clayton High investigation

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SMITHFIELD — A Clayton High School parent who’s been active in the “Bring Bennett Back” movement thanked Interim Superintendent Jim Causby for reinstating Bennett Jones as principal. But she had harsh criticism for school officials’ handling of Jones’ transfer and his bid to return to Clayton High.

Kim Winslow spoke during time reserved for public comment at the Johnston County Board of Education’s Oct. 8 meeting.

Former Superintendent Ross Renfrow transferred Jones to a central office position as lead administrator of the county’s Choice Plus program on Aug. 12. His transfer followed a summer-long investigation of alleged grade-fixing involving a football player to make him academically qualified to play on the team.

In his resignation letter, former Clayton High head football coach Hunter Jenks said Renfrow met with him on Aug. 13 and told him the investigation had not implicated the football program in any wrongdoing.

“This whole situation goes beyond a transfer and a grievance. We really need to look at how this has been conducted and the impact it has had on people,” said Winslow. “Unfortunately, allegations against Clayton were made public and ever since, there has been a dark black cloud over Dr. Jones and Clayton High School, including both the athletic and academic programs.”

Winslow said she didn’t understand why the issues couldn’t have been resolved sooner and didn’t understand why Johnston County Public Schools allowed the matter to linger so long.

“In that three months, people’s reputations were permanently damaged and these kids were persecuted on social media,” said Winslow. “Things got so bad during the summer that some of the CHS athletic teams couldn’t get approval for funds to be released and it got to the point that the football team couldn’t even get access to funds to buy Gatorade for the sidelines at games. I don’t care what was going on with the investigation — the kids shouldn’t pay the price.”

Winslow described the impact of the investigation and rumors at the Sept. 13 football game.

“The Clayton High students and community had to sit there while the opposing team’s fans held signs calling Clayton ‘cheaters’ using the Clayton ‘C’ for emphasis,” she said. “These students and this faculty go to school every day and work their tails off. They don’t deserve this public persecution.”

Winslow said the central office showed a lack of human compassion that bordered on harassment.

“A CHS staff member was summoned to central office to answer questions about the investigation. She expressed she already had a meeting scheduled at the same time with a student, who was homeless, to help them fill out financial aid forms and register for college,” said Winslow. “She was told to cancel that meeting and report for the questioning.”

Another staff member was summoned to the central office and Winslow said she couldn’t find someone to keep her children.

“She had to bring her kids with her. She checked in at the front office at the appointed time,” said Winslow. “She waited for 1 ½ hours in the car with her kids only to be told they were going to have to reschedule.”

Winslow said Johnston County Public Schools called in a staff member who was comforting her mother during her final days.

“She asked if there was any way it could be conducted over the phone because she was caring for her dying mother,” said Winslow. “She was denied that request and was forced to find another caregiver for her mother on that day. Unfortunately, several days later, her mother passed.”

Causby said Friday he had no knowledge of Winslow’s allegations.

Winslow closed her remarks by saying that Johnston County Public Schools needed to do some serious soul-searching.

“These are people’s careers and reputations that have been damaged. These are people’s lives,” said Winslow. “If, after all of this, you can look in the mirror and still say that Dr. Jones’s transfer and the actions of JCPS throughout all of this have been justified, then I ask: Who have we become as a school district and what kind of example are we setting for our kids?”