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Action4Equity: Termination letter had 'misrepresentations.' Group wants Winston-Salem/Forsyth schools to reinstate mentoring program.

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Action4Equity, a nonprofit organization that oversaw a mentoring program for students at four local schools, wants Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools to reverse its decision to end the program.

The school district’s general counsel, Dionne Jenkins, informed Action4Equity President Kellie Easton in a letter on June 30 that it violated district policy by failing to notify the school district in a “timely or suitable manner” that a mentor had been fired by the group on June 20 for “reportedly engaging in an inappropriate relationship with a student at the school the mentor served.”

The Winston-Salem Police Department is investigating, but no criminal charges have been filed.

Tricia McManus

McManus

Superintendent Tricia McManus made the decision to end the contract.

The Journal has made a public records request for emails between Action4Equity and the school district.

In a news release issued on Tuesday, Action4Equity defended itself, saying the termination letter included “several misrepresentations... that are not true.”

According to Action4Equity, it immediately fired a mentor on June 22 after learning of alleged inappropriate conduct with a student who was not in the program. On the same day, Action4Equity’s leadership contacted two “high-level” school officials as stipulated in the contract and contacted Winston-Salem Police to report the allegation, the news release said.

Schools spokesman Brent Campbell said the school district is not at liberty to discuss any further details about the situation because of an ongoing law enforcement investigation.

“We value and appreciate the work of all our community partners and believe in the power of community-based mentoring for our students. In late June, our Board of Education approved new partnerships with seven community agencies to continue offering a wide range of mentoring programs to our students beginning next school year,” he said in a statement.

Campbell said last week that all of the mentors went through a series of training seminars.

Those seminars included “a review of their reportable obligations. That includes multiple types of reportable items/situations like a reported inappropriate relationship,” Campbell said.

Twenty mentors worked with 200 at-risk kids at four schools — Philo-Hill and Paisley middle schools and Reynolds and Parkland high schools — in what was known as the embedded mentoring program. It started in early 2022 as a pilot program with a goal of expanding into more schools.

Action4Equity said the program had been a success.

“It was preventing violence in our schools and our community. This program is changing lives. Why would anyone want to disrupt or destroy it?” the news release said.

It called on the school board to reinstate the program.

In December, the school board unanimously approved spending $1.4 million for the mentoring program, using COVID relief money from the federal government. The program involved hiring people from the community to work with students at risk for such things as dropping out of school, joining gangs and criminal behavior.

Action4Equity said it followed all protocols for background checks. Mentors were also screened by the school district.

“The mission of Action4Equity is grounded in the belief that the community has the answers, and that the unity of our community is central to our shared liberation and prosperity. We know that trust lies at the foundation of our unity, and we are sharing additional information now as part of our commitment to transparency,” the news release said.

336-727-7420

@lisaodonnellWSJ

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