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Cheering coach resigns over pix

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By Reggie Ponder
Staff Writer

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

The cheerleading coach at River Road Middle School resigned in the wake of a controversy over students’ purchase of sweatshirts from Brent McKecuen’s campaign for Pasquotank sheriff and their subsequent posing for a photo wearing the shirts in the school’s gym. 

Tammy Sawyer, a spokeswoman for the Elizabeth City-Pasquotank Public Schools, confirmed Tuesday that Katherine Anderson resigned as RRMS cheerleading coach on Jan. 31.

ECPPS Superintendent Larry Cartner didn’t mention Anderson by name but said earlier this month that a school employee had violated school district policy by taking the photo of cheerleaders wearing “McKecuen for Sheriff” sweatshirts on school grounds. An ECPPS statement claimed the photo violated policy “based on the timing and location of the photo, and the fact that it was displayed publicly,” but added the investigation found no evidence the coach “pressured, coerced or directed the students” either to get the shirts or to pose for the photo.

McKecuen, a sheriff’s deputy and one of six announced candidates for Pasquotank sheriff, later posted the photo on his campaign’s Facebook page and included a statement thanking the cheerleaders for their support. He has since removed the photo and apologized on Facebook for posting it, saying he didn’t know beforehand that it violated school district policy.

McKecuen, who filed for sheriff on Monday, has not responded to media inquiries for further comment about the incident.

Cartner has said the photo violated the school district’s policy banning political activities by school employees that "take place during school time; involve school monies, equipment, materials, or supplies; or make use of an official school position to encourage or to coerce students or other employees of the system to support in any way a political party, candidate, or issue."

In a statement, ECPPS explained that the photo of the cheerleaders in the ‘McKecuen for Sheriff’ hoodies was taken in the school gym during a team practice. 

The statement goes on to detail how the photo came to be taken and who orchestrated its taking.

“Our investigation revealed that the genesis of this incident was a conversation between the cheerleading coach and Deputy McKeceun that occurred at a practice when Deputy McKeceun delivered a sweatshirt to the coach,” the district said. “Team members observed this and asked about getting their own sweatshirt saying ‘McKecuen for Sheriff.’ The coach told them that they could get one for a contribution of $5. Nearly all of the cheer members said they wanted one and would bring in money to get their own sweatshirt from the coach.”

The statement provided some additional information about the circumstances leading up to the photo.

“The evidence indicates that the members of the team asked the coach to take the picture,” according to the ECPPS statement. “The investigation also verified that the coach told at least one parent, and possibly more parents, about the sweatshirts, their purpose and their cost, but also emphasized that the sweatshirts were ‘not mandatory.’”

The ECPPS investigation determined “some of the students apparently used their own money and did not ask their parents for the money or tell them about the purchase at that time.”

The school district’s investigation also determined that none “of the parents felt or sensed any degree of coercion or pressure to purchase a sweatshirt, let alone to support any particular candidate for elective office.” 

Sheriff Randy Cartwright, whom McKecuen is seeking to succeed, has said his office looked into the incident and found no criminal wrongdoing. A spokesman for the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement said the agency also investigated the incident and found no campaign finance or election laws were violated. 

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