MEMPHIS, Tenn. — We’re continuing to follow the investigation into the superintendent of the Memphis-Shelby County School District.
The school board voted 7 to 2 Wednesday to place Dr. Joris Ray on paid administrative leave after rumors surrounding his personal life have launched a full-fled investigation.
School starts in less than one month, and there is some uncertainty among parents about how this decision may impact the school year.
FOX13 spoke with one father who said it’s hard to trust a leader who may not have been honest at home.
“You can’t even be a businessman and take care of what you are supposed to be doing for these kids. You’re out here worrying about pleasuring yourself. That’s not even right,” Derion Vaughn of Memphis said.
Vaughn has two kids in the school district. He’s said he’s disgusted after learning the leader of the district is accused of having extramarital affairs with members of his staff.
“He shouldn’t be on leave. I feel like he needs to be fired for real,” Vaughn said. “He doesn’t need to be anywhere near the system at all.”
The allegations involving Dr. Ray surfaced after his wife filed divorce papers.
After the special-called board meeting on Wednesday, Dr. Ray responded to the decision to place him on paid administrative leave.
“I am disappointed by the board’s actions tonight. However, I want to make it very clear I respect the board’s oversight. They will have my full cooperation during the review process. It is imperative that we remain focused on our children and their academic progress,” Dr. Ray said.
Some parents and educators came to Dr. Ray’s defense during the meeting, saying his leadership has made the district better.
“I am so excited about all the accomplishments that Dr. Ray has implemented and I look forward to the upcoming years to come,” one parent said.
“As a high school teacher, I am very proud of the increased English one scores across the district, and this is a true reflection of our leadership with the district,” one educator said.
FOX13 reached out to all nine school board members for comment after that decision was made.
Two got back to us and referred us to their public relations firm, KQ Communications.
A spokesperson with the firm sent us FOX13 a statement from school board chair Michell McKissack.
Superintendent Dr. Joris Ray has been placed on administrative leave with pay pending the outcome of a thorough investigation. It is our intent to wrap up the investigation as quickly as possible, but more importantly, we want it done right.
To protect the integrity of the process and allow our investigative team, led by Attorney Ed Stanton III, to most effectively do their jobs. We will refrain from further interviews until updates warrant.
Michell Robinson McKissack
MSCS Board Chair
This is not the first time Dr. Ray has been at the center of an investigation. The most recent started in 2018.
That fall, the school district received an anonymous sexual harassment complaint.
The victim accused Dr. Ray of sexual harassment and identified themselves only as ‘M. Jones.’
Investigators attempted to speak with a total of 19 people in the district with the first name M, last name Jones.
In April of 2019, an outside law determined the allegations to be ‘unfounded and without merit.’
During that investigation, it was also revealed that Dr. Ray had been investigated in 2007 for accusations of unethical hiring and misuse of funds.
At the time, Dr. Ray was the director of alternative projects for then Memphis City Schools.
The report said the complaint was investigated and the allegations were found to be ‘unsubstantiated.’
FOX13 is learning more about the people who will fill in for Dr. Ray while he is out on paid administrative leave.
During the special called board meeting on Wednesday, two deputy superintendents were appointed to take over his duties while the investigation into him continues.
The district’s website lists Dr. John Barker as the deputy superintendent for strategic operations and finance.
As for Dr. Angela Whitelaw, she is listed as the deputy superintendent of schools and academic support.
The website doesn’t list anything else about their backgrounds, but we found a bio for Dr. Barker on the National Council for Community and Education Partnerships webpage.
It says Dr. Barker is a Humboldt, Tennessee native and has served in multiple leadership roles in K-12 education.
Prior to joining the MSCS district, his bio says he was the chief accountability officer for Chicago Public Schools and also served for several years as chief of staff and executive director of research, evaluation and assessment with the Memphis City Schools.
We were unable to find an additional bio for Dr. Whitelaw online.
FOX13 reached out to both Dr. Barker and Dr. Whitelaw for a statement.
A member of the school district sent us an email, which was sent out to MSCS families Thursday morning from both Dr. Barker and Dr. Whitelaw.
Dear MSCS Families,
Memphis-Shelby County Schools is a resilient organization with wonderful leaders throughout the District. Please be assured that we will seamlessly continue the work of educating students following the Shelby County School Board’s vote Wednesday night to place Superintendent Dr. Joris Ray on administrative leave pending an external review
We have been given the task of leading in his absence. As long-time educators and administrators, we know the importance of education and the duties required to lead this District. We are honored to serve students and families.
We understand that some of you may have questions or concerns about the review. We ask that everyone give the review process the time and integrity it deserves.
As our summer programs wind down and we move towards the first day of school on August 8, we need every leader, educator, parent, and partner across this community focused on one shared goal: making the 2022-23 school year the BEST year ever for our students, because they deserve it, and so do you.
Dr. Angela Whitelaw and Dr. John Barker
FOX13 also reached out to the attorneys that were appointed to investigate the allegations against Dr. Ray, but so far have not heard back.