Norton teacher/coach remains suspended with pay

James Adams

NORTON — A five-month controversy over the status of suspended Norton City Schools football coach James Adams continues after the school board voted to find he violated school harassment policy.

After a 75-minute closed session, board members voted 3-2 on a motion by board member Wes Campbell to affirm Superintendent Gina Wohlford’s findings that Adams — identified in a July 22 board meeting and Monday as employee 07222019 — had violated the school system’s policy against harassment and retaliation.

No disciplinary action was taken during the meeting, leaving Adams still suspended Monday with full teacher and coaching pay and banned from school system property.

Since June, Adams has been on paid suspension following public comments at the board’s June 10 meeting by two female students. The students detailed incidents in which Adams allegedly made inappropriate comments and struck one of the students with a rolled-up piece of paper.

The school board in June hired the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police (VACP) as an independent contractor for investigative functions. VACP personnel have interviewed school system employees and at least one student who made the June 10 accusations against Adams.

In August, Adams lost a bid in federal court in Abingdon to have his suspension lifted and be restored to his coaching post.

During the post-closed session roll call vote on Adams, board members Mark Leonard and Sherry Adams questioned the motion.

“Mr. Longfeld’s investigative report only repeated the claims of the initial investigation as performed by a prior principal and superintendent and did not result in any new claims subsequent to that investigation,” Leonard said, “and the employee in question had been put on an improvement plan with a letter of reprimand to address those accusations at the recommendation of the principal.”

Leonard, who did not clarify if the investigative report was the one done by VACP, said there had been no new claims since the ones made at the June 10 meeting.

Norton Police Chief James Lane in late June said that a third complaint against Adams had been referred to the Virginia State Police for investigation.

“My comment is, we’ve spent $50,000 plus on this matter,” said Sherry Adams.” It was handled by prior administration, not a previous board. Since that time, this board has received zero incidents of inappropriate language and other activity or incidents being reported.”

Sherry Adams, who is related to James Adams by marriage, voted no on the motion

Campbell, board member Carol Caruso and board Chairman Cody McElroy voted yes on the motion.

McElroy refused to answer questions but had Wohlford hand out a statement saying, “I have no comment or update at this time regarding Mr. Adams or his current employment status other than to state that his status remains unchanged.”

In other business, board members agreed to wait until January to decide on any changes to the board’s regular meeting times. Wohlford presented a possible option of setting board work sessions to run from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. on meeting days with the regular meetings to start at 7 p.m.

Caruso said she could go with leaving meetings to start at the current 5:30 p.m. start or with whatever board members decided. Sherry Adams said the board could consider a 6 p.m. start, with board work sessions running from 6 to 7 p.m. or meetings without work sessions starting at 6.

The board meets on Dec. 16 at 5:30 p.m. at Norton City Hall.