Suspended Burton football coach files suit against Norton School Board

Mike Still • Aug 1, 2019 at 10:09 AM

 NORTON — Suspended J.I. Burton High School football coach James Adams is suing the city school board for reinstatement and legal fees.

In a motion for injunction filed electronically Tuesday in Wise County and Norton Circuit Court, lawyers Steve Minor and Richard Kennedy claimed that Adams was denied due process after a series of events stemming from Superintendent Gina Wohlford’s recommendation to the board June 10 to not renew Adams’ contract as varsity football coach.

The motion claims that Adams was not allowed to respond to the suspension before it was enacted, although he was allowed to appeal the suspension before the school board. Adams and his lawyers met behind closed doors with the board at a called meeting July 22.

In the motion, Minor and Kennedy revealed information about Adams’ status that Wohlford and board members have refused to discuss over the past two months. The motion states that Adams has been suspended with pay, while school system officials would say only that Adams remained a paid school system employee who was not being asked to perform any duties.

Minor and Kennedy also claimed that Adams was not notified why he was suspended except that “complaints of unknown veracity and substance had been made and more were expected to be made.”

Adams, according to the motion, was notified of his paid suspension in a June 24 letter and informed that he was prohibited from school property without Wohlford’s permission and from any contact with current students.

While the board on June 10 did renew Adams’ teaching contract and transferred him from Burton to Norton Elementary and Middle School, Tuesday’s motion stated that Adams had been assigned as an in-school suspension teacher.

The motion states that Adams’ coaching position was advertised as vacant on the school system’s website four days before the June 10 school board meeting, during which two of Adams’ former students accused him of inappropriate comments and sexual harassment.

On June 26, the motion claims, Adams received another letter stating that an investigation period of complaints against him received after the June 10 meeting would be extended from 14 to 21 business days.

While the motion does not provide specifics about the investigation, the school board on June 21 did hire the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police for investigative purposes. The Norton Police Department turned over another complaint against Adams to the Virginia State Police on July 1 for investigation.

Claiming that Adams is “irreparably harmed” if he is not allowed to coach, the motion noted that football practice begins Thursday and the season’s opening game is Aug. 30.

The motion asks for a temporary injunction against the school board to discontinue Adams’ suspension unless supporting evidence is given and Adams allowed to respond. The motion also calls for a permanent injunction from suspension unless due process is provided under state law.

Minor on Wednesday called Adams’ situation and motion “a pretty simple case.”

“If you’re going to suspend anyone, whether it’s a janitor or teacher or superintendent, you’ve got to have facts to support it and not a guess,” Minor said.

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