Dare County superintendent resigns following “cease-and-desist” letter sent to former Dare Teacher of the Year

Dare Superintendent had announced earlier in May he intended to stay on through the end of the 2022-23 school year

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RALEIGH — After a closed session meeting on Monday, May 31, the Dare County Board of Education voted six to one to accept the resignation of Superintendent John Farrelly. His resignation will be effective June 30, 2022, and it was indicated Farrelly will take annual leave for the rest of this month. 

A settlement agreement was approved by the board ending Farrelly’s contract that expires in June 2025. As part of that settlement, starting July 1, he will receive a total of $326,688, which translates to a monthly payment of $18,149 over the next 18 months. Additionally, his performance evaluation for the 2021-2022 school year is to be left incomplete.  

A press release issued following the May 31 meeting said in part that Farrelly and the board “reached a joint determination that it will be in the best interests of Dr. Farrelly and the Board to conclude his time with Dare County Schools on a mutually agreeable basis.” 

Assistant Superintendent Sandy Kinzel was unanimously approved by the board to become acting superintendent until an interim superintendent is selected.  

Farrelly’s initial retirement announcement indicated he would stay on until the end of the 2022-23 school year, but that May 25 announcement was overshadowed by a “cease-and-desist” letter he sent to a former Dare County Teacher of the Year.  

Farrelly was hired as superintendent of Dare County Public Schools in 2017.  

Liv Cook, the former teacher who received the letter and who is now a private citizen, spoke out during public comments at a Dare school board meeting held on May 10. The next day, she received Farrelly’s letter threatening her with a civil action and defamation lawsuit, including misdemeanor libel criminal charges, if she made any “FALSE,” “SLANDEROUS,” and “DEFAMATORY’’ statements about him.  

In his letter to Cook, Farrelly claims his “private attorney” reviewed Cook’s May 12 remarks and that he is prepared to “file a complaint with the Dare County District Attorney’s Office. His letter copied the Dare County District Attorney, the NC State Bureau of Investigations, the NC Federal Bureau of Investigation, the NC Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Education. 

As of May 31, the Dare County District Attorney’s Office says they have not received a copy of the letter. 

Cook posted the cease-and-desist letter to on her Facebook page on May 23, noting the letter came in a Dare County Board of Education envelope. The post has received large support, with over 275 comments and nearly 100 shares so far.  

“I am a mother, woman and past Teacher of the Year in Dare County who received an intimidating letter for sharing her concerns during a public meeting,” Cook wrote in part. “What precedent does this set for others who would share concerns for the good of our community? Does this give us any clues as to how other community members or faculty are being treated?” 

In an interview with North State Journal, Cook, who has two children in Dare County Public Schools, said she has acted on her own and is not affiliated with any group. 

“Teachers in Dare County feel incredibly intimidated to say anything or do anything wrong,” Cook said, adding that was what first prompted her to begin collecting data of the district’s attrition rates over the last ten years. 

“The results were astonishing,” said Cook. She shared that data with the board and said no one contacted her about it.  

Dare County’s teacher attrition has increased under Farrelly’s tenure according to the State of the Teaching Profession reports published by the N.C. Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI). 

During the 2017-18 school year, NCDPI reported that Dare Schools had 382 teachers with 24 departing public school teaching making the district of the top five lowest district’s in terms of turnover rates at 6.3%. The following year, in 2018-19, the rate was 8.6%. 

Data for the district for 2019-20 shows Dare’s teacher attrition grew to 9.7%, according to NCDPI. In the most recent report covering 2020-21, 38 of Dare’s had a 9.4% attrition rate. 

During the May 10 board meeting, Cook provided data from close to 16 teacher exit surveys she conducted stating that she did so because the district does not conduct such surveys. Cook took it upon herself to do those surveys to see if district claims that teachers were leaving because of COVID and lack of affordable housing were true or not.  

Cook told North State Journal she began noticing educators and administrators leaving the district back in 2019. She also said she only began speaking out at board meetings this year.  

In her remarks, Cook said her data showed 44% of exiting teachers she surveyed indicated inadequate compensation. Also, “18% said inadequate support from building administration and a whopping 50% said inadequate support from central office administration.”

Cook went on to say that there were “zero responses” had anything to do with “COVID, inadequate affordable housing, inadequate colleague support, relocation or a new professional opportunity.” 

She closed out her May 10 remarks by quoting remarks made by one of the participants in her exit survey. Those remarks included specific complaints related to the district’s status under Farrelly’s leadership. 

Since receiving the letter, Cook and her family have started an online petition asking Dare’s Board of Education to make Farrelly’s retirement effective at the end of the current school year. 

North State Journal reached out to Dare County Public Schools for comment, asking what parts of Cook’s remarks Farrelly’s private attorney considered slander, if the board was aware of his letter, and why an official Dare schools envelope was used for alleged private purposes. We also asked if it was Dare County’s policy or was it typical practice by the district superintendent to threaten to sue its citizens for speaking out at public board meetings. 

The district refused to answer our questions. 

“The district administration has no comment on this matter,” wrote Keith Parker, Assistant Superintendent of Digital Communications. 

This is not the first time Farrelly had used such a letter. 

A group called Dare County Citizens for Constitutional Rights, which uses the name “Dare To Share OBX” on Facebook, received a similar letter in an email from Farrelly sent earlier in May.  The group has called out both the district and the superintendent over leadership, curriculum issues, and district pandemic policies over the last year.  

In his letter to Dare to Share OBX, Farrelly stated he has “retained a law firm that is conducting an investigation into a series of slanderous public statements” made by Dare to Share OBX members. 

“I can assure you we are quite informed in the difference between freedom of speech and defamation of character,” Farrelly wrote. He then closed his letter by threatening a civil suit if the group continued “defaming me and damaging my reputation.”  

On April 27, Farrelly announced Parker was being promoted to superintendent for Elizabeth City-Pasquotank Public Schools.

About A.P. Dillon 682 Articles
A.P. Dillon is a North State Journal reporter located near Raleigh, North Carolina. Find her on Twitter: @APDillon_