As if the allegations against former Lincolnton High School principal Tony Worley weren’t concerning enough, new revelations in the days that followed his resignation point to potential issues in the school system much more far-reaching and nefarious.
Worley quit his job in the wake of a school system and police investigation into allegations of misconduct involving a student at Lincolnton High. According to warrants filed by a Lincolnton Police Department detective, Worley was involved in a digital relationship with a male student, during which Worley sent sexually explicit messages and pictures to the student, communicating at times with the student through his official school social media profiles.
Thanks to dogged reporting by staff writer Michelle T. Bernard, the Times-News revealed on Monday that Worley has been the subject of at least one other officially recorded complaint about improper communications with a student and, according to several sources, was the subject of other police and school system investigations involving claims that he was having inappropriate contact with students.
Worley has yet to be charged, and law enforcement investigations into allegations of digital crimes take time.
What’s more concerning is the lack of reaction from the school system.
Worley was a principal or administrator for Lincoln County Schools for nearly two decades. The first allegation of improper contact with a student that the Times-News uncovered dates back to 2007, five years into his tenure with the school system. Meaning that, essentially, the school system knew, or should have known, 12 years ago that something was possibly amiss.
But Worley got a pass, and remained at Lincolnton High until 2013, when he was moved to the district office, in a move that appears to be reminiscent of the tactics of certain religious organizations when confronted with allegations of sexual abuse on the part of men in high places.
While these new allegations may be the first to be enough for Worley to be charged with a crime, the previous instances of potential inappropriate contact with students were more than enough for the school system to take disciplinary action. The school system, at this point, won’t even acknowledge that there were any prior concerns.
That’s one of the problems with insular institutions. They’re designed to protect their own, no matter the cost.
The school system needs to explain how and why it allowed a potential predator to operate unimpeded for nearly 20 years. The veil has been lifted, and those who hope to obfuscate and misdirect have a duty to start the process of regaining the public’s trust.