Sussex Central investigation continues; acting principal named

With a police investigation into unnamed Sussex Central High School staff members in its third month, the Indian River School District has named an “acting” principal at the school.

At a Wednesday night Board of Education meeting, Judith Brittingham was approved as acting principal, district Superintendent Jay Owens said in a statement provided Thursday. Tara Thoroughgood will serve in Brittingham’s former role of director of special education. Both are longtime district employees.

“These are acting positions of uncertain duration while the district awaits additional information,” Owens said.

Brittingham will take the place of the current high school principal, Bradley Layfield, who apparently is on paid leave. He has not returned phone calls from Delaware Online/The News Journal.

The lack of information from the district has angered some in the community, where rumors are rampant. However, officials are limited in what they can say due to state and federal laws related to personnel.

Pam Long’s child is a student at Sussex Central in Georgetown. During the comment portion of the meeting Wednesday night, she was one of two parents urging transparency from the board.

Students have told Long the climate at the school is “already so terrible,” she told the board.

“If the administrators are allowed to get away with anything, then the students will think they can too,” Long said.

Background:State Police conducting a ‘criminal investigation’ into an incident at Sussex Central High

The Wednesday night meeting consisted of an executive session, which was closed to the public, and a very brief public session in which board members voted on personnel matters without using names.

What we know

The Indian River School District first notified the public of a situation May 22, when they announced “members of the Sussex Central High School staff” had been placed on administrative leave, citing “an ongoing investigation” as the reason they could not comment further.

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Later that week, Delaware State Police spokeswoman India Sturgis confirmed her agency, in collaboration with the Department of Justice, was investigating a “criminal incident” at Sussex Central High School after being “proactively contacted” by the district.

From left: Indian River School District Assistant Superintendent Karen Blannard, Superintendent Jay Owens, Former Board of Education President Rodney Layfield, current President Legola Wright and district administrative secretary Jennifer Troublefield at a special meeting Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2022.Download Image
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District spokesman David Maull issued another statement the same day.

“It is a regular practice of the Indian River School District to place employees on paid leave in many circumstances, including when there is an allegation, investigation, complaint, threat against the employee, or other instance warranting paid leave,” he said. “When an employee is placed on paid leave, this should never be construed as expressing or implying that an employee will face employment action or that an employee may have engaged in any wrongful conduct (of any severity).”

When asked for an update in June, Sturgis said police still have “a considerable witness list to sift through.”

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“It’s important to keep in mind that these investigations can be complex and require careful attention to detail to ensure accuracy,” Sturgis said in July. “Rushing through the process could result in overlooking critical information, so we take the necessary time to ensure all aspects are thoroughly covered.”

On Monday, she said “investigators are still conducting interviews.”

Previous investigation of a district official

Former Indian River Board of Education President Rodney Layfield faced controversy of his own last year for the way he spoke to Hodgson Vo-Tech coaches at Sussex Central vs. Hodgson football game at Sussex Central.

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“Throw another ‘F’ bomb, you’re gone,” Rodney Layfield said after one of the coaches used profanity.

In a video, the coaches can be heard saying, “By who?”

Sussex Central High School on Patriots Way in Georgetown.Download Image
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“Me,” Rodney Layfield said. “Hey, you ain’t from around these parts, boy.”

Hodgson coach Darrell Lockart told Delaware Online/The News Journal he felt threatened.

“Calling another man ‘boy,’ even outside of me being African American, it’s saying I’m less than you,” Lockhart said. “I’m not equal to you.”

The Board of Education held a no-confidence vote regarding their president about a month later, but it failed, 5-4. Delaware State Police conducted an investigation into Rodney Layfield’s conduct.

Rodney Layfield’s term on the board expired June 30 and he did not run for reelection. His seat was filled by Ivan Neal and board member Leolga Wright was named president.

Rodney Layfield, who is Bradley Layfield’s brother, is a Delaware State Police Captain. He is still employed by the agency, but representatives could not immediately provide the results of the investigation.

Shannon Marvel McNaught reports on Sussex County and beyond. Reach her at [email protected] or on Twitter @MarvelMcNaught

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