Wake County teacher arrested following WRAL investigation into letters alleging abuse (2024)

A Wake County teacher, James Rencher, has been arrested on 12 counts of assaulting students with disabilities following an investigation by WRAL News.

The alleged abuse took place in the fall semester of 2022 at East Wake High School. Rencher left the school in November 2022 and transferred within the district to Herbert Akins Road Middle School, according to the Wake County Public School System.

Documents show Rencher was employed from November 2022 until April 2024 at Herbert Akins in Fuquay-Varina. Rencher, 58, resigned when WRAL began investigating the abuse allegations.

Court documents state Rencher -- a former East Wake High School teacher -- placed his hands on a student’s legs and forcibly made the student take steps, the student then fell down the stairs.

In another case, Rencher allegedly pushed a student’s head as the student entered the bathroom.

In a separate instance, Rencher kicked a ball a student was seated on, the student fell to the ground and made loud noises.

The alleged victims were students in Rencher's special needs classroom and are non-verbal, according to the documents.

Attorney responds to abuse allegations against teacher

Seth Blum, an attorney representing Rencher, said the school district thoroughly investigated the abuse allegations. Blum said the district found the allegations were “baseless.”

Also, Blum told WRAL that there are cameras throughout East Wake High School, where Rencher taught. Blum said if Rencher had committed any of the allegations of abuse, it would have been caught on camera.

Blum said he is looking for Rencher’s side to come to light and to “move forward through the process.”

East Wake High School principal writes letter families

East Wake High School principal Stacey Alston wrote a letter to families at East Wake High School. According to Alston, Rencher used to be a special education teacher at the school.

"The charged conduct is related to incidents that occurred on our campus with students in 2022," Alston wrote in part. "While privacy laws prevent me from providing more information about the situation, I can share that this person no longer works four our school district."

History of abuse, unchecked by Wake County Schools

Last month, WRAL reported on a pair of anonymous letters alleging that Rencher was abusing Justin Hemphill and Christian King, who were classmates in Rencher’s class in 2022.

“Mr. Rencher is verbally and physically abusing students in class,” the letter read.

Justin’s mother, Tess Smithen, and Christian’s father, Tim King, told WRAL that they immediately brought the letters to the school’s principal, Stacey Alston. Both parents say they were brushed off and told conflicting things. King was told there was nothing to the letter. In a separate meeting, Smithen was told the letter was being investigated.

A follow-up letter sent to Smithen stated that the allegations were “addressed.” Nothing else happened until 5 On Your Side got involved. Earlier this month, WRAL News reported that Wake County Public School System employees failed to report the allegations of abuse to law enforcement.

5 On Your Side: An anonymous letter accused a Wake teacher of abuse. What happened after a mom pushed for an investigation

Wake sheriff investigates following 5 On Your Side report

Three days after WRAL's report, the Wake County Sheriff’s Office began its own investigation.

Emails leaked to WRAL News claim Justin and Christian were abused on several different occasions.

In one email, a district official wrote that Rencher shoved Christian violently by the head. A separate email detailed Justin’s abuse, alleging that Rencher pulled Justin by his shirt collar, jerking him backwards by the neck.

Rencher resigned from the district last spring. He was booked at the Wake County Justice Center 598 days after the letters were delivered.

Another parent gets letter alleging teacher abuse. 5 On Your Side asks school what happened

Parents of victims call for accountability from Wake County Public School System

Smithen and King are now calling for the resignation of school leaders.

"The ball was dropped somewhere, and someone needs to be held accountable,” Smithen said.

Authorities held Rencher early Friday morning at the Wake County Detention Center. His bond was$150,000.

Public records show Rencher bonded out. He is due to appear in court onJuly 22.

The maximum sentence for an A1 misdemeanor for someone like Rencher with no prior record is 60 days. A judge could run the sentences consecutively for a total of 720 days.

The Wake County Public School System released the following statement:

WCPSS is aware of the criminal charges that have been filed against former employee, James Rencher, and the school system has cooperated fully with law enforcement’s investigation.

While the school system cannot comment on the scope of any particular personnel matter, it is our practice to review allegations that arise during the course of an investigation. We cannot comment on specific reports made to law enforcement which would be considered confidential student and personnel information. It is the school system's expectation that allegations of abuse be reported to law enforcement as required by law.

Creating and maintaining a safe environment for students is our utmost priority, and we recognize those efforts are essential to building trust with the families of our students. The school system continually reviews its practices to consider how its processes and training can be improved in support of this priority.

WRAL News on Friday reached out to Rencher for comment and is waiting to hear back. In previous coverage, the former teacher denied the allegations against him.

On Friday, WRAL News spoke with Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman and asked whether her office looked into whether Alston properly reported the abuse allegations.

"Yes, and at this time, no additional charges have been brought," Freeman said.

Freeman said it is the district attorney's office's "responsibility is to hold people accountable when they have committed a crime. There are other avenues by which people may take action to try and hold people accountable who may have dropped the ball [or] didn't do what they were supposed toin terms of their job responsibility."

Also, WRAL News asked the Department of Public Instruction and the State Board of Education if they ever received a report of Rencher's alleged abuse. They confirmed it was reported, but wouldn't say when. WRAL News has filed a records request.

Wake County teacher arrested following WRAL investigation into letters alleging abuse (2024)

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