Norton coach still on payroll after federal court denied injunction

Mike Still • Sep 18, 2019 at 10:15 AM

NORTON — Suspended J.I Burton High School football coach James Adams is still on the city school system payroll despite losing his bid to return to coaching after a federal judge denied his motion for a preliminary injunction in August.

Superintendent Gina Wohlford confirmed Tuesday that the city school board took no action on Adams’ status at its Monday meeting, although federal Judge James Jones denied his motion to be restored to his coaching post after he was suspended on June 24.

Wohlford said Adams is still receiving his teaching and coaching pay while suspended. He is under investigation by the Virginia State Police on a sexual harassment complaint received after two other allegations of sexual harassment were publicized during the school board’s June 10 meeting.

Adams’ lawyers on Aug. 1 had filed in Wise County and Norton Circuit Court for a temporary injunction to restore Adams to his football coaching post at Burton. That hearing had been set for Aug. 26 before a change to a scheduled Aug. 20 hearing before Circuit Court Judge Tammy McElyea.

The case shifted to federal jurisdiction before the Aug. 20 hearing after the school division’s insurer, the Virginia Association of Counties, took over the handling of the case and hired Roanoke attorney Jennifer Royer to represent the school board. Royer then filed to have the case moved to federal jurisdiction, leading to Jones’ hearing and decision.

Adams’ status as a school system employee had been in question publicly since June 10, when the board voted to keep him as the Burton football coach and to move him from his teaching post at the high school to an in-school suspension teacher at Norton Elementary and Middle School.

The board later hired a new interim coach and coaching staff.

According to court documents filed for the federal hearing, Adams was instructed not to be on school property or be in contact with current students.

The board in June also hired the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police for investigative services. One of the students who accused Adams of sexual harassment at the June 10 meeting later confirmed that she had been interviewed by someone from VACP.

At least 27 people — including Adams, parents, students and current and former school system staffers — have been questioned by the VACP in conjunction with its review, according to court filings by Royer. The Virginia Board of Education has also received complaints regarding the Adams situation, Royer wrote in her filings.

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