East Wake Academy addresses employee policies after Brandon Smith trial

mhankerson@newsobserver.comOctober 11, 2013 

— East Wake Academy’s former headmaster Brandon Smith just went to trial for sexual battery and assault charges a few weeks ago, but current administrators say the school addressed holes in the institution’s policies long before Smith went to court.

The school revamped its sexual harassment policy and began requiring employees to participate in sexual harassment training about a year ago.

The old policy, headmaster Stephen Gay said, was about a page and a half long. The new policy is five pages.

The new policy involves the school’s Board of Directors and advises victims to keep documentation of their experiences. The new policy also says it will be evaluated every three years.

It outlines what constitutes sexual harassment and tells victims the process they should take to report the harassment. The old policy only told victims to go to an administrator.

During Smith’s trial, both women who brought charges against Smith testified they weren’t sure what to do after feeling uncomfortable with some of Smith’s behavior. East Wake Academy had an employee handbook with a small section about how to handle sexual harassment in the workplace. They said it required them to go to the school’s equivalent of the human resources department.

Gay said the school doesn’t have an HR department but teachers are instructed to “move up the chain of command” to handle conflicts with coworkers.

Each school at the academy has an assistant headmaster. From there, employees can take their complaints to Gay, who leads the day-to-day operations of the entire school. If the problem is not resolved at that level, the employee can complain to the Board of Directors. That’s the same complaint procedure school employees were to follow under the old policy.

One woman who testified against Smith said he was the sole member of the human resources department so she had to bypass him and go right to the school’s Board of Directors.

“I wasn’t about to go to the person I was complaining about,” she told the court. “I didn’t have training, I didn’t know where to go.”

Kevin Murray, the principal at East Wake Academy’s middle school, supervised both victims in the Smith trial for about two and a half years.

He mentioned the employee handbook on the witness stand and told the court the school has revised the sexual harassment policy since the allegations of Smith became public.

Gay said since last year, there has been sexual harassment training that involves showing employees a video that goes over what sexual harassment is and how to handle it.

The school held such a session a few weeks ago for new employees. As the school gets new employees, they may hold additional sessions.

“We don’t want East Wake Academy to be defined by this trial,” Gay said.

Hankerson: 919-829-4826 Twitter: @easternwakenews

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