UPDATE: Murphy High School principal indicted on two charges of indecent liberties with student
Cherokee County Schools has suspended Murphy High School Principal Thomas Graham in response to allegations of misconduct.
UPDATE: Monday, we are learning more about the Cherokee County, North Carolina, principal who is suspended. 45-year-old Thomas Graham is accused of sexual misconduct involving a student during his time at Hiwassee Dam High School, where he was principal for six years
The superintendent and sheriff couldn't release too much information citing an ongoing investigation. Law enforcement officials are still questioning students and teachers about the allegations.
“Anytime something like this happens, [it] is devastating to an entire community. We are a very tiny close-knit town,” Superintendent of Cherokee County Schools Jeana Conley said.
She said the charges filed against Murphy High School Principal Thomas Graham are disheartening.
Thomas Graham has been an educator with the school district since 1999. Working his way through the ranks, he started as a teacher at Murphy High School. From 2010 to 2016, he was the principal of Hiwassee Dam High School.
Sheriff Derrick Palmer said that is when the alleged sexual misconduct happened.
“We have worked hand and hand with the Cherokee County School System," Sheriff Palmer said. "They have been very cooperative and very forthcoming.”
Although Graham was suspended at the end of January, he is still considered a paid employee with the school system.
“North Carolina Employment Law is very restrictive on the due process," Superintendent Conley said. "We have to demonstrate evidence before we can make a recommendation to terminate."
Teachers were given a letter to share with their class about Graham's suspension. It says in part, “by law in this country, anyone is innocent until proven guilty. We all need to remember the difference between speculation or gossip and facts.”
Superintendent Conley said her students and their privacy is her top priority while this investigation continues.
“The folks on either side are damaged anytime accusations like this occur," Superintendent Conley added. "The family of the accuser, and the family of accused and everyone in between feels emotional and damaged. It is really a terrible circumstance.”
Thomas Graham is out of jail on a $2,500 bond. He will be in court again on March 26. We reached out to Graham for comment, but our calls have not been returned.
While the investigation continues, Jason Forrister has been named interim principal of Murphy High School.
PREVIOUS STORY: A spokesperson for the Cherokee County Sheriff's Office told Channel 3 that Thomas Graham, principal at Murphy High School, was indicted by a grand jury on two charges of indecent liberties with a student.
Graham is currently out of jail on a $2,500 secured bond.
His next court date is scheduled for Monday, March 26th.
We will keep you updated as more information becomes available.
PREVIOUS STORY: Cherokee County Schools has suspended Murphy County High School Principal Thomas Graham in response to allegations of misconduct.
Graham's suspension began on January 26th. Law requires that Graham's suspension is paid.
The school system posted on Facebook about the suspension.
"Cherokee County Schools has been working with local and state law enforcement agencies and has fully cooperated with their investigation." a school system spokesperson said. "Because personnel matters are considered confidential under state law, CCS cannot make any further comment regarding Mr. Graham. Further, it is imperative that CCS strive alongside law enforcement agencies to seek the truth and impart fairness to all parties involved."
Mr. Jason Forrister has been acting as the school's principal. The post said that he will continue in the position as long as necessary.
"Student safety is the first priority of Cherokee County Schools and CCS takes the appropriate measures necessary to provide a welcoming and safe atmosphere for all students, staff, parents and volunteers," the spokesperson added.
The school system did emphasize that they conduct a thorough background check on all potential employees before hiring them.
If an issue arises while the employee works for the district, the school system will work with law enforcement to make sure that a through and fair investigation is done.