Court documents: Embattled J.I. Burton teacher has been subject of “multiple investigations for misconduct”



NORTON, Va. (WJHL) – New documents filed in federal court by the attorneys for the School Board for the City of Norton reveal embattled J.I. Burton High School teacher and coach James Adams has been investigated in recent years on misconduct allegations.

Adams filed a lawsuit against the school board due to his suspension as a teacher and coach in Wise County Circuit Court earlier this month. On August 19, the case was transferred to federal court.

PREVIOUS STORY: J.I. Burton High School coach accused of sexual harassment moves case against school board to federal court

According to the documents filed Thursday in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia,  “The decision to suspend Mr. Adams was also made, in part, with knowledge of Mr. Adams’ employment history with the School Board, which included multiple investigations for misconduct, including allegations of sexually harassing/bullying/abusing students… and Mr. Adams’ history of interfering with an active child abuse investigation…”

A second document filed Thursday, “Declaration of Dr. Gina Wohlford,” gives more history about previous investigations.

“In 2016, Mr. Adams’ principal investigated complaints that Mr. Adams bullied teachers, staff, and students at John I. Burton High School. His principal concluded that Mr. Adams engaged in activity that placed both students and staff in fear of harm to their emotional well-being, created a hostile work and educational environment, spread rumors about staff with the intent to harm, and engaged in sexual bullying/harassment.”

The statement continues that the investigation found “incidents of threatening staff; threatening ‘to beat [the] face [of a student] in’ for using obscene language in class; implying undue influence with the School Board and an ability to compromise other employees’ employment with the School Board for acting contrary to his wishes…”

The statement also reveals that the 2016 investigation found Adams made “sexual references and innuendoes about female students, including calling them ‘hotties,’ ‘hot chick[s],’ ‘sexy,’ and ‘beautiful,’ making references to their bodies…”

Due to this, Adams underwent “informal and formal counseling sessions” and was given a “performance improvement plan” by the principal at the time.

According to the statement from Superintendent Wohlford, the Superintendent of Public Instruction from the Virginia Department of Education alerted Wohlford in June 2017 that the department “had received an anonymous complaint that Mr. Adams had ‘engaged in and continues to engage in inappropriate behavior with female students’ as young as 13 years old.”

Wohlford stated that due to the anonymous complaint and few details, an investigation by Norton City Schools was “unable to confirm or substantiate any inappropriate comments or behavior since the corrective action was taken during the 2016-2017 school year.”

The document also shows that Wohlford suspended Adams with pay in April 2018 during a Child Protective Services investigation. Adams was accused of throwing a stapler at a student. “The incident was captured on video and posted to the internet months after it happened.”

The statement continues that “While Mr. Adams did throw a stapler at a student, Mr. Adams and the student reported it to be a joke, and the Child Protective Services investigation concluded that the complaint of child abuse was unfounded.”

Dr. Gina Wohlford’s declaration continues that the principal at J.I. Burton “learned that Mr. Adams has texted a student to be interviewed and stated, ‘lay low on me, Williams [the principal] is trying to get me…” Wohlford stated the responded “’Of course, coach, I got you.’ Mr.  Adams responded with a fist bump emoji and a smiley face.”

The student and Adams admitting to sending the texts. Wohlford said it “was an attempt by Mr. Adams to interfere with the child abuse investigation.”

For using “his position of authority and influence over the student to interfere with the investigation,” Adams was issued a written reprimand.

The document then goes into detail about the events leading up to Mr. Adams’ current suspension.

Also revealed in both documents filed Thursday was that the investigation into Adams is ongoing. The school district has hired former police chief Timothy Longo “to conduct an investigation into the complaints and prepare a formal report of his findings and recommendations to the School Board in order to comply with the Division’s Title IX obligations.”

ORIGINAL STORY: Norton, Va. coach accused of sexual harassment and assault

Adams is set to appear in federal court in Abingdon Friday afternoon. Stay with News Channel 11 for developments in this story.

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