After nearly a month of seeing his wife being forced to miss their daughter's basketball games, Steve Stewart went before the Macon County Board of Education on Monday to request that the ban prohibiting his wife, Amy Stewart, from being on school property be lifted.
"Both my wife and I both work at the Macon County Sheriff's Office and are good, upstanding members of the community," said Steve Stewart Monday night. "I believe that the ban is unreasonable and unprecedented."
Steve Stewart's request comes after Interim Superintendent Dr. Jim Duncan sent a letter to Amy Stewart on January 7 notifying her of his administrative decision to ban her from Franklin High School. The letter reads, "This letter is to inform you that, due to your involvement in events on or about Jan. 5 of this year, I am directing that you are not to be present on any school property or at any school activities for the remainder of this school year."
Dr. Duncan's decision is based on documents filed with the Macon County Clerk's offices regarding an incident which occurred on Jan. 5 at Franklin High School.
Amy Stewart, who is a detective with the Sheriff's Department, was officially served the Sunday after the incident by Macon County Sheriff Robbie Holland. It is alleged that two separate incidents took place between Stewart and the two complainants, Kimberly Spies and Anna Shields: One taking place during a FHS basketball game on the evening before and another via social media in the days prior. The complainants were advised by deputies in the gym providing security that they could go to the Sheriff’s Office website and file a formal complaint against Stewart and they could also go to the Magistrate’s office if they felt a crime had been committed.
Both summonses claim that Stewart was communicating threats, one against Spies’ son, a student at Franklin High School and the other against Franklin High School employee Anna Shields. Both alleged incidents occurred while Stewart was not on duty.
As Steve Stewart pointed out to members of the school board, Amy Stewart has not been found guilty and to date, nothing incriminating has been determined while Stewart has been investigated by the Sheriff's Office. "At this point, the events are alleged and my wife is considered not guilty until proven otherwise, and because she has not been found guilty, I think this ban is unreasonable."
The Stewarts have a daughter in her senior year at Franklin High School, and since the ban, Amy has been forced to miss out on her daughter's basketball games. "Our baby is growing up and my wife can't be there to see that," pleaded Steve. "If this ban isn't lifted, my wife will be forced to miss our daughter's senior night in basketball and even her high school graduation. I am not here to bash anyone or to raise cane, but we want to respectfully ask that the ban placed by Dr. Duncan be lifted."
According to Steve, since the incident, he has met with Board of Education member and husband to Anna Shields, Gary Shields to discuss the matter in hopes of finding a solution.
During Monday night's meeting, Steve asked the board to vote to lift the ban, but according to school board attorney John Henning Jr., the administrative decision was one that the Superintendent made alone and did not involve the board.
According to Dr. Duncan's first letter to Amy, Dr. Duncan was acting within his power to order the ban, even without a legal verdict on the matter. "As Interim Superintendent, charged with overseeing the safety of all staff and students, it is incumbent upon me to take this action.... this action extends to your attendance of school activities that are held off of school property, such as away sporting events. Also note that your failure to comply with this directive will result in further steps to prevent your being present on school property or at school events."
Both Amy and Anna have children who are members of Franklin High School athletics. While Amy's daughter is a senior member of the girls varsity basketball team, Anna's son is a member of the boys varsity basketball team. While mediation could work out a compromise between the two parties to allow both parents to see their children during their senior year without further conflict, no such agreement has been attempted.
In addition to Steve requesting the ban be lifted Monday night, the Stewarts’ attorney, Jack W. Stewart out of Asheville sent a formal letter to Dr. Duncan on Jan. 18 with the same request.
According to the Stewart's legal counsel, he also believes Dr. Duncan's request is extreme, not only for Amy personally, but also professionally. "By virtue of my client's profession as a veteran investigator for the Macon County Sheriff's Department with over 15 years experience working as a Juvenile Officer, Detective Stewart is often required to conduct her business on school properties or at school activities, so your unilateral request is both unreasonable and unprecedented," reads Jack Stewart's letter. "Moreover, of greater concern to me is the notion that you have punitively restrained my client, without a hearing or any semblance of due process for alleged crime(s) she did not commit."
Originally, when the Sheriff"s Office launched an internal investigation into the matter, Detective Stewart was placed on administrative duties. According to Sheriff Holland, she has since returned to her normal duties, with the exception of visiting Franklin High School, in order to comply with the request. In a release from Sheriff’s Holland’s office on Wednesday morning, he explained Detective Stewart’s professional capacity.
“The Macon County Schools’ Superintendent Dr. Duncan, had previously informed Detective Stewart ‘not to be present on any school property or at any school activities’ but has now reduced those restrictions to allow her on all school properties for ‘job-related’ purposes, except for Franklin High School,” said Holland. “Dr. Duncan also directed Stewart that his ‘action extends to … attendance of school activities that are held off of school property, such as away sporting events.’
While I do not believe that I have any authority to mandate his request regarding out of county activities, as I have explained in detail to him, I have encouraged my employee to adhere to his request until the legal issues are resolved or until her legal counsel advises her differently.”
“Given the fact that these allegations involve matters not related to school events or personnel, I would hope that you can see fit to withhold any presumptive judgements until such time this dispute is properly litigated," reads Jack Stewart's letter.
Both Dr. Duncan and John Henning Jr. informed Steve Monday night that a response had been sent to Jack Stewart regarding the request to lift the ban. His response, which was sent out on Jan. 24, was to deny the request to lift the ban.
"Macon County Schools will not be inflexible and I will consider rescinding the earlier directive if and when there is a satisfactory conclusion to this matter," reads Dr. Duncan's letter. Dr. Duncan also wrote that Macon County Schools would respect the wishes of the Sheriff's Department to allow Stewart to continue working at schools within the district, with the exception of being on Franklin High School's campus.
Sheriff Holland explained that Detective Stewart has been cooperative thus far and he will continue the investigation until a legal conclusion is reached.
“To my knowledge, Detective Stewart has adhered to all requests made of her by Dr. Duncan,” said Holland. “She has also fully cooperated with our investigation and I expect her to continue to do so. I will not take any final action regarding our internal investigation until the investigation is concluded and all legal issues are resolved. Since Detective Stewart was served with the criminal summonses, she has obtained legal counsel and I will continue to support her right to exercise her Constitutional rights, just as any other citizen has a right to do.”
“I will not make any additional statements regarding this issue until all legal proceedings are concluded,” he continued. “This is a personnel issue, and N.C. law limits the information that can be released.”