Superintendent Accused Of Mishandling Clayton High Investigation

15 Page Grievance Filed By Former Principal Bennett Jones Against Dr. Ross Renfrow  

As support continues to grow for former Clayton High School Principal Dr. Bennett Jones, the former principal has filed a formal 15 page complaint against Superintendent Dr. Ross Renfrow alleging he attempted to manipulate an internal investigation now underway. When efforts to manipulate the investigation were not successful, the complaint alleges Renfrow retaliated against the principal.

Superintendent Dr. Ross Renfrow

On June 20th, was the first to report the Clayton High School Athletic Program was under investigation after a whistleblower sent an email to school leaders and our news outlet alleging recruiting and academic fraud.  In the article, School Board Member Ronald Johnson claimed the allegations were not being properly investigated and that a high ranking official, along with other board members, were trying to manipulate those being investigated.

Board Chairman Mike Wooten was critical of the JoCoReport article saying in part, “The Board would never knowingly support retaliation toward an employee for reporting illegal, unethical, or immoral behavior.”

Two months later, the investigation into grade fixing allegations at Clayton High is still ongoing. On Aug. 12th, without notice, Principal Jones was suddenly transferred from Clayton High to a Central Office position.

JoCoReport has learned that on Aug. 13th, Dr. Jones filed a formal 15 page grievance with the Johnston County School Board against Superintendent Renfrow.  A whistleblower provided JoCoReport with a copy of the grievance.  (A grievance was also filed by Dr. Jones on July 19th but was reportedly never heard, a potential violation of school policy)

In the Aug. 13th grievance, Principal Jones alleges Dr. Renfrow violated multiple school policies, has presented no evidence for his removal or transfer, has not had the opportunity to explain or deny any of the allegations against him, and alleges he was “defamed” and “harassed” during the investigation due to actions of the Human Resources Department. Jones further claims he is being retaliated against for questioning Dr. Renfrow.

Former Clayton High Principal Bennett Jones

The grievance contains assertions that Mr. Jones was misled by the Superintendent to believe Board Member Johnson was responsible for all the actions taken against him. Dr. Jones lists dates and times where Dr. Renfrow tried to convince him that Ronald Johnson is a “wildcard” trying to damage his reputation.

The allegations in the grievance include Dr. Renfrow trying to convince Jones that Ronald Johnson has a vendetta against Clayton High School.

Throughout the grievance Dr. Jones documents his requests to be heard by the Board of Education and be able to face the allegations made against him. He also claims he is subject to a “hostile working environment in which I have been defamed and harassed by unsubstantiated allegations and was discriminated against due to unwarranted investigational practices.”

Grievance Timeline

June 12th
According to a copy of the 15 page grievance against Dr. Renfrow, Jones said on June 12th, 2019 he spoke with Superintendent Renfrow by telephone about the academic investigation. Renfrow alleged stated Jones had the support of all board members expect a “wildcard continuing to ask questions.”    The wildcard is believed to be Board Member Johnson who received the whistleblower complaint and turned it over to Dr. Renfrow to be investigated.

June 13th
Jones said he went to Dr. Renfrow’s office and “…expressed frustration the investigation was continuing to drag on and that other people were now being impacted.” Renfrow reportedly said those responsible for spreading false allegations would be investigated.

June 17th
Jones complaint says he saw Dr. Renfrow talking with school board attorney Jimmy Lawrence during a break at a meeting.  Jones said he expressed concern to Dr. Renfrow his peers were being told about the allegations and “…I felt that my integrity was being questioned and my character was being defamed and slandered. I told him that due to these attacks, I felt like I needed to contact an attorney… for advisement and that if he heard from (my attorney) he would know what it was concerning.”

“When we returned to the building I ran into Attorney (Jimmy) Lawrence. He told me he knew that the allegations were false and that they were going to ‘handle the situation.’  I told him that I did not feel supported and that I was going to seek the advice of counsel… Mr. Lawrence responded, ‘You don’t need to call (attorney), he is going to charge you $500 for a phone call… you let us handle it and we will take care of it.”

Lawrence allegedly said that he and Superintendent Renfrow “had my back”, Jones said in the grievance.

June 18th
Bennett Jones said he was notified by a colleague that a principal at another Johnston County School had continued to spread rumors of Department of Public Instruction audits and investigations ongoing at Clayton High.  Concerned about a hostile work environment, Jones said he called Superintendent Renfrow.  Renfrow allegedly told him he had called the principal at the school in question and told her not to say anything.

June 19th
Jones said he contacted Dr. Renfrow informing the same principal had spoken to a colleague.  “I informed Dr. Renfrow that again she had lied and had been spreading false allegations. He responded by saying, ‘Thank you for sharing. I will address tomorrow.'”

Jones said he received an email from football coach Hunter Jenks saying he had been contacted by a employee wanting a comment for a story on the allegations at Clayton High.  Jones said in the grievance, “I informed Coach Jenks not to respond and I immediately called Dr. Renfrow and forwarded him the email that has been sent. He stated he would handle.”

June 20th
In a phone conversation, Dr. Renfrow allegedly told Jones he was aware (JoCoReport) was publishing a story.

“JCPS created a blanket response statement in response to the story. I expressed frustration to JCPS officials that the statement was not sufficient as they has information already that had proven that the allegations made initially, and published in the story, were false. The response was that the statement was vetted by the superintendent and board attorney.”

Jones said he drove to the Central Office and met with Dr. Renfrow and Chief of Human Capital Brian Vetrano.  Jones said he told Dr. Renfrow he had retained an attorney “…as I did not feel protected.”

June 21st
The complaint alleges Principal Jones spoke with Dr. Renfrow about releasing a statement through his attorney but did not “…and instead trusted the district to release a statement which has not happened. I again expressed concern to Dr. Renfrow regarding the nature and length of the investigation and it being in the media. (Renfrow) reiterated that I had his support and that he knew who was behind the allegations being made.”

June 25th
Dr. Renfrow arrived at Clayton High School and reportedly informed Jones, at the recommendation of an attorney, (Jones) was to work from home beginning June 26th and not to be on school grounds without his permission while the investigation continued.  (Renfrow) said this was being done to protect me and to ensure that no one could say that I had influence over the investigation, according to the grievance.

June 27th
Chief of Human Capital Brian Vetrano sent an email to Clayton High staff members asking them to anonymously submit information.  Jones said he called Dr. Renfrow expressing concern over the email soliciting anonymous information without any merit or basis.  Jones said he continued to be “harassed” by employees at another school.  Dr. Renfrow reportedly said he knew Jones had done nothing wrong and that he had spoken with Brian (Vetrano) asking him to expedite the investigation.

July 10th
Jones states in his grievance an internal auditor directed by Mr. Vetrano seized all financial records of Clayton High School.  Jones said he spoke to Dr. Renfrow and expressed concern over the length of the investigation and why it had not been finished, and to also clear his name.  Renfrow allegedly replied, “As long as there isn’t anything new, I expect to have you in the building no later than Monday, July 22nd.”    Renfrow reportedly said the June 27th email had resulted in about 70 tips.  Renfrow said Jones had a “strong 6 behind me” referring to 6 of the 7 school board members.

July 17th
In a 7:00am meeting with Dr. Renfrow, Jones alleges he told the superintendent he had concerns about a conflict of interest involving an outside attorney brought in during the investigation by Johnston County Schools.  Jones said he continued to express concerns about the length of the investigation.  Renfrow allegedly replied, “Bennett, I see this being resolved, that you have done nothing illegal.” Renfrow continued allegedly saying Jones would be back at Clayton High preparing for the opening of school unless there was some type of ‘smoking gun.’

Jones said he asked Renfrow if he had a future in the JCS district and was reportedly told, “Bennett, yes you have a future, a bright future.”

July 18th
Jones grievance alleges Head Football Coach Hunter Jenks was interviewed for nearly 4 hours. Jones said he texted Dr. Renfrow stating a football coach at another school was talking about the investigation.

July 19th
Jones said he heard rumors were going around the Central Office the investigation was being drawn out to create an opportunity for him to be moved later this summer. Jones said he filed a grievance form with Board Chairman Mike Wooten, Vice Chair Dr. Peggy Smith, and member Tracie Zukowski (Clayton liaison) asking for assistance.  (The July 19th grievance was reportedly never heard, sources tell JoCoReport.)

July 20th – Aug 7th
Jones said he was presented with various proposals to resolve the situation including being told to resign or face suspension or disciplinary action. Jones said he refused any deals.

August 8th      
Jones says he was formally questioned for the first time by an attorney, (Chief of Human Capital) Brian Vetrano, and Deputy Superintendent Dr. Paula Coates. Jones said his attorney was present for the entire 4 hours.  Jones said he requested Dr. Renfrow and any school board member available to attend but none were present.

August 9 – 11
Jones alleges he was offered an agreement to accept a transfer and in return was asked not to file any type of grievance regarding the action.  Jones said, “I was told if I agreed, I would get a good recommendation to another district and my part of the investigation would be concluded. If I did not agree, the investigation would continue and I might not receive a good recommendation. After consulting with my attorney, I decided not to sign any type of agreement.”

Aug 11th
Jones said a school board attorney informed his attorney that he would be transferred and he could get his belonging from the school.

Jones said the school’s investigation does not appear to be fair, accurate or timely.  “…It is clear that there is no one at the district office that is operating in the best interest of me and my family, or quite frankly, of that of Clayton High School and its students and community. While I understand that the district has the responsibility to investigate matters, it is not acceptable to do it in such a manner that I am defamed, slandered and discriminated against while it is being completed.”

The Aug. 13th grievance formally requests a hearing to be held as soon as possible to reinstate him as Clayton High principal.  He also asks “not to be subjected to further retaliation efforts by Dr. Renfrow and his staff”, the investigation be closed, a public statement signed by the school board and Dr. Renfrow supporting findings of no academic dishonesty or fraud, a public apology to Coach Jenks and other Clayton High staff members “who have not just been questioned, but interrogated” and reimbursement of all legal fees.  Jones also requested additional stipulations to ensure his future potential employment opportunities would not be impacted “by this avoidable situation.”

Threats of Legal Action Over ‘Recording’ ?
Another school system whistleblower contacted JoCoReport with details of an alleged audio recording in the possession of school board member Ronald Johnson.   The whistleblower claims Johnson allegedly went to Superintendent Renfrow’s office on or about August 5th demanding to know why he had not been informed of the July 19th grievance against Dr. Renfrow.  (A second grievance was filed by Jones against Superintendent Renfrow on Aug. 13th)

In the alleged meeting, Johnson demanded Dr. Renfrow not manipulate the investigation. In the meeting, which reportedly involved shouting, Johnson played an audio recording of Dr. Renfrow allegedly trying to manipulate Bennett Jones.  After the verbal confrontation, the whistleblower said Johnson was threatened with legal action if he told anyone about the recording or shared a copy.

Johnson declined to comment about the alleged Central office blow up, saying he would not comment about any part of the Clayton High investigation or Dr. Renfrow until the matter had been resolved.   Johnson also declined to comment on the 15 page grievance obtained by JoCoReport.

Students Show Support for Bennett Jones
Kimber Blackburn, a 2018 graduate of Clayton High School, reached out to advocating for Dr. Jones reinstatement.

“As someone who participated in the changes Dr. Jones made in order to turn a hardly functioning high school into one of the most successful, it was a privilege and these changes would not have worked without the innovative ideas Dr. Jones provided. As someone who has looked up to Dr. Jones as a mentor figure, I believe he deserves to be back at Clayton High School for the betterment of the Clayton community and the students.”

Parent Backs Principal
Kim Winslow, a parent of a Clayton High sophomore spoke with this week.  “As you can imagine, the parents and students of Clayton High School are extremely upset by what has happened to Dr. Bennett Jones and Clayton High School,” Mrs. Winslow said. “We need to hold Dr. Renfrow and the School Board accountable for their actions.  They are more worried about protecting themselves as a result of this sham of an investigation, than they are in doing what’s RIGHT and just for Dr. Jones and for the students, staff, and parents of Clayton High School.”

Winslow said, “This is a situation where Dr. Renfrow is the tail that’s wagging the dog that is the School Board.  He is powerful and well connected and they know that.  Dr. Renfrow technically reports to the School Board, but he is controlling the shots and the narrative.  HR and the School Board attorney are essentially molding the investigation to fit Dr. Renfrow’s narrative.  We strongly feel that this investigation remains open, because they haven’t found the ‘smoking gun’ they’ve been looking for.  If they had, Dr. Jones would have been fired or suspended.  Neither of those have occurred.  In fact, he remains in the Johnston County School System in a leadership position.  AGAIN, if there were any egregious infractions, he would have been FIRED or SUSPENDED!  At this point, if they don’t find and report ‘something’, they (Dr. Renfrow and his ‘cronies’) look ridiculous; so they must find ‘something’.  As a result, they have dragged this ‘investigation’ on and on!”

“What’s happened to Dr. Jones is extremely, extremely unfortunate!  What’s even more sad, is he is not the first this has happened to.  Unfortunately, those before this did not have the voice behind them that Dr. Jones does.  Since this has happened, I have been publicly vocal about the situation, and I have had multiple people reach out indicating this has happened to them as well.  However, they’re too afraid to speak out for fear of retaliation by Dr. Renfrow and his ‘network’.    Dr. Jones may not be the first that this has happened to, but he needs to be the LAST!   The community supporting Dr. Jones and Clayton High School will not be silent!”

Winslow added, “Unfortunately, the School Board and the Superintendent are hiding behind ‘we can’t comment on an open investigation’ and ‘this is a confidential personnel matter’.  They will continue to do so until they can find a narrative that supports Dr. Renfrow’s actions.  Dr. Renfrow, alone, made this decision!  Is it under his purview to make personnel changes and transfers?  Absolutely.  However, WHY was this one made?  WHY now?  It is very clear that he did this because he is threatened by the success of Dr. Jones.  Dr. Jones is a rising star in Johnston County and Dr. Renfrow has heard the whispers that Dr. Jones could be a better superintendent right now!”

“The good ol’ boy network is in full force – people in power are protecting each other.  Instead of acting in the best interest of the students, people are doing everything possible to protect Dr. Renfrow and his pathetic leadership  – HR, the School Board, the School Board’s lawyer, etc.  Protecting him is more important that doing what’s right for Dr. Jones and the students of CHS.”

Thursday Rally At Clayton Town Square
Winslow said Clayton High students are planning a rally on Thursday, Aug. 22nd at Clayton Town Square from 6:30pm – 8:30pm to show support for Bennett Jones.

According to a town permit, 1200 people are expected to attend.

No Comment
On Tuesday, JoCoReport reached out to Superintendent Dr. Ross Renfrow and School Board Chairman Mike Wooten seeking a comment about the 15 page grievance. Neither responded. We also emailed Bennett Jones attorney for a comment. He also did not respond to our email request.  We were unsuccessful in reaching Mr. Jones seeking a comment.

Special Called Meeting Aug. 27th
Wednesday morning, Johnston County School officials announced a special called meeting would be held on Tuesday, August 27th at 6:00pm to discuss a personnel matter. The meeting will take place in closed session. It’s unknown if this meeting has anything to do with the Clayton High Principal or the 15 page grievance against Dr. Renfrow.