In a lawsuit filed Thursday in Wake County Superior Court, the former Children’s House directress at the embattled Montessori School of Raleigh claims her employment was terminated because she cooperated with the police investigation into allegations of sexual abuse against former middle-school teacher Nicholas Conlon Smith and the handling of those allegations by head of school Nancy Errichetti.
The school denies the allegations.
Smith, who is currently in the Wake County jail on a $3 million bond, was indicted in November on twenty counts of sexual abuse and child pornography related to his relationship during the 2011–12 school year with a student identified in court records as Jane Doe I, who was then fourteen and fifteen years old.
According to a lawsuit filed in January
by the Jane Doe I’s family against the school, Smith, and Errichetti, Smith later abused Jane Doe I’s younger sister during the 2015–16 school year. That lawsuit alleges that the school knew of Smith’s inappropriate behaviors toward young female students but didn’t take sufficient action to stop him.
In May, Errichetti was indicted
for aiding and abetting Smith’s alleged crimes and contributing to the delinquency and neglect of a minor, a felony and a misdemeanor, respectively. Her indictment alleges that, between August 14, 2012, and June 2, 2016—the dates of two nearly identical “Corrective Action Plans” Errichetti gave Smith that warned him, among other things, not to go into girls’ hotel rooms on school trips—that she “had previous knowledge of inappropriate behavior toward other students in whose care he was entrusted as a school teacher” and “as head master [sic] was in a position to act and failed to do so.”
She was arrested on May 16 and released on a $25,000 bond.
In the complaint filed Thursday afternoon (which can be read in full at the bottom of this post), Janie Jackson, who worked as a teacher and directress at MSR for nine years, says she was interviewed by Raleigh police on November 17, a week and a half after Smith’s arrest. In that interview, the complaint says, she reported a number of troubling allegations, including:
- Jackson was present when a teacher, identified as Subhash Patel, told Errichetti that Smith had taken middle-school students to a bar and gotten drunk with them. Errichetti allegedly put her hands over her ears and said, “Stop, I don’t want to hear this.” (Patel did not return a phone call seeking comment. However, another former teacher previously described this incident to the INDY; this teacher says it occurred a few years ago at Patel’s retirement party, which took place on MSR’s middle-school campus.)
- In the early 2010s, Smith “had acted inappropriately towards middle school daughter,” then an MSR student, “of engaging in sexually provocative behavior.” According to the lawsuit, Smith also took the girl off-campus in his personal car without permission.
- A teacher named Caroline Eidson had emailed Errichetti in August 2012, soon after Errichetti was promoted to head of school, about “concerning behaviors” between Smith and female students between 2010 and 2012, including entering girls’ hotel rooms, playing inappropriate games, and “holding hands and otherwise engaging in inappropriate physical contact with middle school girls.” (Reached by email, Eidson—incorrectly referred to as “Edison” in the lawsuit—declined to comment.)
- In 2012 or 2013, Smith took over the school’s “sweat lodge”—which a source describes as a “Thanksgiving tradition where the middle-school students and alumni participate in sweating together as a part of their Thanksgiving celebration” in a structure that is on the campus year-round—and “hand-picked almost all female middle school students to participate in (and be alone with him in) the ‘sweat lodge.’”
On April 19 of this year, Jackson says, the school gave her a student roster and class assignment for the 2018–19 school year. But eleven days later, on April 30, Jackson says Errichetti told her that she was being terminated as of June 8—or more technically, she would not be renewed for the next school year. Errichetti, the lawsuit says, “refused to tell [Jackson] why her employment was being terminated, beyond saying that she no longer fit the ‘culture’ of the school.”
In between those two dates, the lawsuit alleges, the school received a summary of Jackson’s interview with the Raleigh Police Department.
On May 22, the lawsuit continues, Kathleen Malik, whose sister-in-law is on the school’s Board of Trustees, approached Jackson in the school parking lot and said that “she had been told, presumably by her sister-in-law, that [Jackson’s] employment was terminated because she ‘talked to the police.’ She further told Jackson, ‘I can’t help you get reinstated because it is tearing our family apart.”
In an email Friday morning, Kathleen Malik—who is married to North Carolina Football Club owner Steve Malik
—denied making the statements attributed to her in the lawsuit. “I was disappointed to see these false statements in the lawsuit, and I look forward to seeing the truth come to light.”
Malik’s sister-in-law, Tania Malik, could not be reached for comment.
“It is the public policy of the State of North Carolina to encourage and promote witnesses to cooperate and provide truthful information to police, especially where the police are investigating act and circumstances that concern the safety of children …,” Jackson’s lawsuit alleges. “Defendants wrongly discharged Plaintiff because she performed an act that public policy would encourage.”
Jackson is seeking compensatory and punitive damages.
“We always encourage people to cooperate with police investigations into child abuse and neglect,” says Robby Jessup, the attorney representing Jackson. (He is also representing the Doe family in their lawsuit against Errichetti and the school.) “We encourage people to do exactly what Ms. Jackson did. We were saddened to learn that Ms. Jackson’s employment was terminated by the Montessori School of Raleigh after she spoke with detectives.”
In a statement, Joe Lee, the chairman of MSR’s Board of Trustees, says the lawsuit “has no merit.”
“Ms. Jackson was not terminated,” Lee says. “Her contract was ending and was simply not renewed. Ms. Jackson’s lawsuit wrongly attempts to tie her employment status to a tragic and unrelated event in our school’s history. The decision not to renew this teacher’s contract had absolutely nothing to do with her cooperation with the police. From the very moment of Nick Smith’s arrest, we encouraged everyone—students, parents, staff, faculty, and alumni—to go directly to law enforcement if they had any pertinent information to share. In fact, when Ms. Jackson indicated that she had relevant information, she was specifically directed to go to the police. We absolutely deny the allegations in her complaint."
Along with Jackson, at least fifteen other teachers left MSR at the end of the school year, including six whose contracts were not renewed. Multiple sources within the MSR community say that a handful of other teachers left during the school year. MSR spokeswoman Joyce Fitzpatrick says this degree of turnover isn’t unusual for the school, which has a faculty and staff of seventy-eight, according to its website
According to Lee, Errichetti is currently on administrative leave and has “no role in the school’s day-to-day operations. The board,” he says, “is currently interviewing candidates to serve as interim head of school.”
Several sources have told the INDY
that Errichetti’s contract with MSR is set to expire at the end of June. According to Fitzpatrick, the Board of Trustees is “waiting on the legal case to play out” and will defer a decision on whether to renew her contract until that happens.
Errichetti’s arraignment is scheduled for Monday.
will have more on this story in next week’s paper.
See related PDF