Norton, Va. coach, teacher accused of sexual harassment and assault

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NORTON, Va. (WJHL)- A Norton, Va. high school teacher and coach is being accused of sexually harassing and assaulting multiple students. 

Norton City School board members voted unanimously to renew the contract of J.I. Burton’s head football coach Jim Adams despite these claims, which he denies. 

A petition with more than 37 hundred signatures is calling for his removal. 

Norton Police Chief James Lane said his department has been contacted about the allegations. He said he’s asked Virginia State Police to take over the investigation. 

On Facebook, Norton City School officials are calling for any victims of sexual harassment to come forward.

Former J.I. Burton student Taylor Collins, 18, said she was a freshman when Adams, her history teacher, sexually harassed her. 

“He always called us, all the girls, hot girls or sexy girls or talked about our legs literally every day. He had us stand up and twirl for him if we had a dress or a skirt on,” said Collins. “It was always just something incredibly degrading that nobody would really stand up or say anything about. We were just freshmen.” 

One day, Collins said Adams took things a step further. “The whole class saw it. I was walking out, and he literally just smacked my butt. I was disgusted. Not only disgusted but scared and confused.”

Mason DeBoard, a former football player for Adams, said he was in Collin’s history class that year. He agrees that Adams should be fired for what he described as long-standing inappropriate behavior. 

“I was there, I witnessed it and I know people who I know have witnessed it, but they’re still supporting him and I don’t know why,” said DeBoard. 
 
Another student, who spoke to News Channel 11 on the condition of anonymity, said Adams told her he ‘couldn’t get enough’ of her legs when she was 15.
 
“I just sat there like did he really just say that to me in front of everybody,” the student said. “I can remember what I was wearing that day because it sticks out so much in my mind.”  
 
Advocates at Family Crisis Support Services in Norton said six girls have reached out to them regarding Adam’s behavior so far. “I feel that based on what has come out on social media and what I have been told privately there are more than six girls,” said Angel Mefford, the organization’s sexual assault advocate. 
 
Norton City Police and social services investigated some of these allegations in April 2018. 
 

Adams declined an interview but News Channel 11 reached his attorney, Steve Minor, by phone. He said, “Mr. Adams denied what was being investigated and it was concluded that it was unfounded and the school board reasonably relied on that conclusion.”

Norton Police Chief James Lane said criminal charges could not be brought in this case because the statute of limitations was up. “It does not mean a crime either did or did not occur. It just means too much time has passed between when the incident was alleged to have occurred and when it was reported.”

Commonwealth Attorney Chuck Slemp said the statute of limitations in Virginia for a class one misdemeanor is one year from the date of the alleged offense. “It’s unfortunate that we can’t prosecute it because we would aggressively prosecute this type of crime,” said Slemp, referring to the alleged sexual assault. 

Slemp said accusations of sexual harassment would not be considered criminal. 

Still, Crystal Sturgill is among the parents who think Adams should be fired on the basis of these allegations. “These children need to know that they have support from our school system, our community and that all of their allegations will be taken seriously,” she said. 

Instead, local advocates said students coming forward were mocked by several audience members at a school board meeting where Adam’s contract as football coach was renewed. 

“No one put a stop to it. You re-victimize girls who are coming forward, and we wonder why people don’t report,” said Mary Beth Adkins, executive director of Family Crisis Support Services.

It’s unclear why administrators recommended Adams be replaced in the first place, according to Minor. 

Minor said Adams has no intention of leaving his position and school officials have not said they’re considering other options. 

News Channel 11 reached out to School Board Chairman Cody McElroy and Superintendent Gina Wohlford multiple times for an interview and received the following statement from McElroy. 

“Administration and the School Board take seriously any student complaint directed at the behavior or conduct of any employee.  Such complaints will be investigated in a manner that allows us to reach a fair and considered conclusion, considering and balancing the interests of our students and their safety and well-being and the rights of any employee subject to a complaint or allegation. Complaints of misconduct will not be ignored by the division, and the division will continue to investigate such complaints fairly, carefully, and fully as those complaints are communicated to school administration. The division investigates specific complaints of allege employee misconduct, without regard to when the alleged misconduct occurred. As we have stated before, The School Board and school administration remain fully committed to providing our students with a safe and nurturing learning environment. Because of the need to protect student confidentiality and employee privacy, and because of other legal constraints, the Board and administration cannot publicly comment on any specific ongoing student or personnel matters and investigations.”  

A vigil is set to be held in support of the students coming forward on July 8th. Mefford said it will begin in Norton Park at 7 PM. 

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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