A Northwestern High School administrator accused of criminal sexual misconduct with students received two reprimands from Rock Hill principals for inappropriate contact with students, district personnel records show.
Kenneth Andrew Williams, 31, faces 12 charges of sexual misconduct with two Northwestern students, filed by Rock Hill police in two arrests in late April and early May. He remained in the York County Detention Center Thursday on $1.2 million bond.
Williams’ Rock Hill school district personnel records, obtained by The Herald through an S.C. Freedom of Information Act request, show Williams received written reprimands regarding inappropriate contact with students in June 2013 and again in May 2015.
Williams, hired by Rock Hill schools in 2008, was a physical education teacher at Rock Hill High School when he received the June 2013 letter of reprimand, written by Rock Hill High Principal Ozzie Ahl.
By May 2015, when a second letter of reprimand was issued to Williams by Northwestern Principal James Blake, Williams had been promoted to the role of assistant principal.
The reprimands refer to “inappropriate” contact by Williams with female students via social media and at school. Both letters warn that further interactions could result in Williams being dismissed from his job.
Blake declined to answer questions about Williams’ promotion in a phone call Tuesday, or to say whether he knew about the 2013 reprimand when Williams was promoted to assistant principal in July 2014.
Ahl was contacted by the Rock Hill school district office for a telephone reference check in July 2014, at the time Williams applied for a promotion to assistant principal. Ahl made no mention of the May 2013 reprimand in that reference check, according to a district personnel record.
According to a July 14, 2014, Rock Hill school district record of the phone reference check, Ahl responded to a question about any disciplinary action against Williams by responding, “No,” indicating Williams had never faced any such action.
The reference check also included the question: “Is there anything else you wish to share with us about this candidate?” to which Ahl responded, “No,” the school district record shows.
Ahl declined to accept a phone call Tuesday from The Herald, seeking comment on why he did not mention the 2013 reprimand he wrote to Williams during the district’s 2014 reference check for a promotion to an administrative position.
Rebecca Partlow, chief personnel officer with the Rock Hill school district, also declined to accept a phone call from The Herald, seeking comment on whether the district shares current employee personnel information, including records of reprimands or other discipline, with administrators who make hiring and promotion decisions.
Blake, Ahl and Partlow all referred questions about the Williams case to Mychal Frost, the district’s communications director.
In response to an interview request from The Herald, Frost released a three-paragraph statement Wednesday from Superintendent Kelly Pew, who said the district takes hiring and student safety seriously.
Pew said in an email that she was not able to respond to a list of six specific questions about Williams’ discipline and promotion emailed to her by The Herald at Frost’s request, citing the “ongoing criminal investigation and related issues.”
‘Contact with female students’
The May 31, 2013, letter of reprimand written by Ahl to Williams states it was a follow-up to a May 30 meeting with Williams “in regards to your having contact with female students via social media and verbal communication with them at school.”
In the letter, Ahl told Williams that personal contact by school staff with students via social media is not appropriate. “This is especially true when it is a one-to-one message from a male staff member to a female student,” Ahl wrote to Williams.
“It is difficult, if not next to impossible, to justify why any male staff member should be having this type of contact with a student,” Ahl wrote to Williams in the letter.
The letter continued: “Asking students how they are doing, what they are doing, where they are and other such questions should not be a real concern of a staff member during school or outside of school hours,” Ahl wrote.
Ahl concluded the letter by instructing Williams that “such interactions need to stop immediately” and warning him that further such interactions “will result in a review of your employment status and could include termination.”
The second letter of reprimand was written to Williams by Blake on May 4, 2015, regarding an investigation into “conduct unbecoming of an educational professional.”
The letter said Williams had admitted messaging a female student via SnapChat on the evening of April 26, 2015, and that he had come to Blake the next morning to report “what you indicated was a mistake in messaging a student, which could be perceived as being inappropriate.”
The incident was investigated by Northwestern, including interviews with Williams, the student involved, a teacher who had reported the incident and a school resource officer, Blake wrote in the letter.
In describing a meeting between himself and Williams that followed the investigation, Blake wrote that he had expressed “my extreme disappointment in how this incident came to be and how your actions of the evening allowed it to perpetuate itself.”
The letter does not disclose further details of the incident.
In the letter, Blake directed Williams: “Do not call, contact, communicate with any student, high school age or younger, in any school district unless it relates to your professional responsibilities and duties as an assistant principal in Rock Hill schools.”
Blake also warned Williams: “Any similar behavior will result in a conference with you and district-level personnel concerning my recommendation for job termination,” the letter states.
Williams faces criminal charges that he had a lengthy sexual relationship with a 16-year-old female Northwestern student since she was 15, according to arrest warrants. Police have said incidents that resulted in the charges began around May 2014.
Other charges allege Williams sent nude pictures of himself and videos of himself masturbating via SnapChat, a social media platform, to that student and to another girl, who was 16 and a Northwestern student at the time, according to warrants and police.
Frost said Williams remains on paid administrative leave, which he was placed on after the first victim alleged at Northwestern on April 20 that he had sex with her. He was arrested by Rock Hill police on six charges on April 26 and arrested on six more charges May 12.
Williams’ attorney, Twana Burris-Alcide, told a judge during his May 12 bond hearing on the second set of charges that Williams is facing a “due process hearing” with the Rock Hill school district, a disciplinary proceeding over the charges against him.
Williams’ state teaching license was suspended by the S.C. Department of Education last month after his initial arrest, pending the outcome of the district due process hearing, according to documents in his personnel file.
Burris-Alcide could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Rock Hill school board chairman Jim Vining and board vice chairman Walter Brown both said they could not comment on the personnel issues surrounding Williams’ discipline and promotion.
Vining said he has excused himself from all board discussions regarding the Williams case because his wife is a Northwestern teacher and was technically a subordinate of Williams.
Brown said he was not able to comment because of the possibility of a school district personnel hearing involving Williams.
The initial charges against Williams on April 26 were four counts of third-degree criminal sexual conduct with a minor and one count each of second-degree criminal sexual conduct with a minor and unlawful conduct toward a child. Williams was released on an initial $110,000 bond on those charges.
The second set of charges are one count of first-degree sexual exploitation of a minor and five counts of disseminating obscene material to a person younger than 18. Bond was set at $1.2 million for those charges.
Police have alleged that Williams controlled his victims, assigned to him as a school administrator, with academic threats. They alleged that he manipulated his first victim by promising to protect her from bullies if she complied with his sexual demands and that he threatened to harm her school records if she did not.
Jennifer Becknell: 803-329-4077
Statement from Rock Hill school district
Superintendent Kelly Pew released the following statement in response to questions from The Herald about the Rock Hill school district’s handling of the promotion and discipline of Kenneth Andrew Williams:
“While I am not able to answer specific questions regarding Mr. Williams, other than to tell you that the District and its employees are cooperating fully with law enforcement, I am happy to share remarks regarding our general personnel practices. We take the hiring of personnel very seriously in our District. In addition to face-to-face interviews, we conduct thorough reference checks, SLED checks and sex offender registry check on all new employees before they are able to begin work in our District. These hiring practices will continue in our District. The District also conducts annual training each year for employees to provide a safe learning environment for our students, faculty and staff.
The safety of our students and employees is always our top priority. There are policies and procedures in place for students, employees, parents and community members to make the District aware of concerns regarding safety and security. These concerns are investigated immediately and actions are taken including involving law enforcement when appropriate.
As standard practice, we review the District’s policies and procedures on a regular basis and make modifications where appropriate. We will continue this process.”