CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - A former Charleston County associate superintendent agreed Tuesday to a two-year suspension of his teaching certificate in connection with his handling of the Marvin Gethers case months after the period of suspension had already ended.
That’s according to newly-released documents from the South Carolina Department of Education.
Dr. James Winbush worked as an associate superintendent of the Charleston County School District’s Middle School Learning Community and has 17 years of teaching experience, the documents state.
Marvin Gethers was a former teacher and CCSD staff member who was accused of accessing child pornography on a district-issued laptop and later arrested in 2016 on allegations he sexually assaulted two students. Gethers maintained his innocence and died in 2017 before those charges could go to trial.
Winbush oversaw Dunston Elementary School where Gethers worked and was therefore Gethers’ district supervisor.
CCSD placed Winbush on administrative leave on Jan. 6, 2016, as it investigated his use of two personal bank accounts for the purpose of handling personal funds donated to schools for events not financially supported by the district. Documents state Winbush used his name and social security number to open two checking accounts.
One of the accounts was titled, “Innovation Zone Learning Community” and the other was titled, “Middle School Learning Community,” documents state.
At the time, there was no district policy outlining how to handle private donations to the district and the district was not only aware of Winbush’s fundraising efforts but even promoted them.
But in 2016, a new administration audited Winbush’s accounts and found there was no accounting of how $49,908.76 in funds was actually used, documents state.
“However, Dr. Winbush subsequently provided receipts to the District’s legal Department for most of the activities and thereafter provided his attorney additional receipts which the District never requested to review,” the documents state. “Dr. Winbush had to file suit to defend his reputation. The District eventually paid Dr. Winbush $100,000 and wrote him a letter of recommendation. Subsequently, on July 19, 2018, SLED found all funds associated with its investigation were private funds.”
It is not clear from records when Winbush was taken off administrative leave. But before the investigation into the bank accounts ended, the state Department of Education learned the Charleston County School District was investigating an allegation that Winbush allowed Gethers, who had himself been placed on administrative leave for potentially possessing child pornography, to return to work at Dunston Elementary School.
A district investigator found that on May 15, 2014, Winbush received an email for the first time stating Gethers’ district-issued laptop had been turned over to North Charleston Police and that police had not yet gotten back to CCSD about the investigation. The email explained a detective had called a district security employee and questioned why Gethers had been allowed back to work, the document states.
“Based on the length of time this situation had taken, Dr. Winbush took no action to remove the employee from work after receiving this email, nor did anyone else at the District, who arguably share some of the responsibility with regard to personnel matters,” the document states.
When asked about Gethers, Winbush said Gethers had been “returned to work and reprimanded,” though the district investigation states neither Winbush nor other district employees completed any documentation on the decision.
The investigation also revealed that Winbush had previously loaned Gethers money and after Gethers returned to work, Winbush sent communications to Gethers to arrange reimbursement.
It wasn’t until January 2016 that North Charleston Police reviewed the laptop and concluded “it had been used to access child pornography” and then arrested Gethers.
By then, Winbush was on administrative leave because of the bank accounts investigation.
Gethers was later arrested on charges of third-degree criminal sexual conduct with a minor and first-degree sexual exploitation of a minor. Those charges were based on alleged abuse that happened after Winbush allowed Gethers to return but before the police investigation was over, the documents state.
The principal of the school “was never made aware there was an allegation the employee viewed child pornography,” the documents state.
Winbush agreed on Tuesday to waive his right to a hearing and accept a two-year suspension of his teaching certificate. The suspension was then recorded in Winbush’s permanent record as having taken place from May 14, 2017 through May 14, 2019, the documents state.
South Carolina Department of Education spokesman Ryan Brown said all disciplinary actions against a certified educator are recorded on their permanent record.
“The State Board of Education has a variety of recourses at its disposal to take disciplinary action against a certified educator,” Brown said. “Applying the suspension retroactively is one of those recourses.”
That record, he said, is “accessible to any current or future employer in South Carolina and also in other states via the national clearinghouse.”
Winbush no longer works for the CCSD, district spokesman Andy Pruitt said.