Kemp Phillips, a sex offender, is being investigated by the Surry County Sheriff’s Office for going onto the campus of Millennium Charter Academy to watch his child play basketball, officials say.
Phillips was attending basketball games at the school this winter, and volunteered to run the clock under an agreement with the school that allows him to be on campus as long as he is under supervision.
Someone raised an alarm with the Surry County Sheriff’s Office, and for now Phillips and the school have mutually agreed that Phillips won’t come onto the campus until everything is cleared up.
“I’m not going back on campus until I hear something,” said Phillips, 49. “As far as I was told, I was doing what I was supposed to do.”
Phillips was a boys’ basketball coach, and also a teacher of health and physical education, at Mount Airy High School in 2003 when he was suspended and later charged with two counts of statutory rape of a 15-year-old girl at the school, five counts of taking indecent liberties and two counts of sex offense with a student.
Pleading guilty and sentenced to prison that fall, he served a little over five years and was released in January 2008. After that, Phillips was on probation for four years. As part of his conviction, Phillips had to register as a sex offender.
The law spells out in detail what a sex offender can and cannot do. Among other requirements, a sex offender:
- Can’t live within 1,000 feet of a school or child care center.
- Can’t work at any place where a minor is present and the offender’s job would include instructing, supervising or caring for the minor.
- Can’t be on the grounds of a school, a children’s museum, child care center or playground.
But what happens when a sex offender is a parent? That’s the situation that Millennium Charter Academy Headmaster Kirby McCrary faced when Phillips’ child made the school basketball team.
The law carves out a provision for such parents, basically requiring that they give notice to the school of their status, and that they be under “direct supervision of school personnel” while on campus.
McCrary said that the school’s board of directors looked at state law and consulted with an attorney before giving Phillips permission to come to watch his child play.
The school’s board passed a motion in October of 2016 that gave Phillips permission to come onto the school property to pick up and drop off the child, and to come onto the property at other times with permission and under supervision.
McCrary said the board decision included Phillips both watching the games and volunteering to run the clock.
“He is in the guidelines of the law,” McCrary said. When basketball season was on, Phillips was “in a clearly visible place and supervised 100 percent of the time by a school staff person.”
McCrary said Phillips had to show up for the game no more than 15 minutes before it started and was escorted to and from the gym.
Earlier in the year, McCrary said, one parent expressed concern but was satisfied when the arrangement was made clear. More recently, McCrary said a deputy from the Surry County Sheriff’s Office came by to check on the situation and mentioned a parent had complained. McCrary said the deputy had a copy of the school’s decision regarding Phillips with him when he came by.
Capt. Lloyd Terry of the Surry County Sheriff’s Office, called the matter an ongoing investigation and declined comment.
It isn’t the first time someone has turned in Phillips for what they thought was a violation off the sex-offender law.
Phillips in 2009 was accused of unlawfully being on the premises with minor children when he went to a fitness center that had a nursery and child care programs. The charges were dismissed by the district attorney, who said that Phillips was in compliance with the restrictions.
It turned out that Phillips would visit the fitness center early in the day and would be gone before any children arrived.
A check of Phillips on the state sex-offender registry indicates no violations on Phillips’ part.
“If you are on the registry, you are never comfortable, period,” Phillips said. Running the clock during games didn’t involve interacting with children and he was clearly visible the whole time, he said. Whenever he went to a game, he said, he would call or email in advance and make arrangements to be met.
“They would have to be able to see me,” Phillips said. “There is no sneaking around, nothing nefarious.”
At the request of the Journal, a Winston-Salem attorney whose practice includes handling sex offender cases looked at the resolution that Millennium Charter Academy passed regarding Phillips’ coming onto the campus.
“I have never seen a school authorize it without some specific regulation,” said Chris Beechler, of the firm of Beechler Tomberlin PLLC. “They decided this person was not a risk, but they are being diligent in allowing this person to come in with supervision. If I am a parent and I am upset and call the school, they can say that we don’t have any unescorted sex offenders coming into contact with your kids.”
Although someone running the clock is closer to the kids playing the game, Beechler said that too is allowable because of the agreement with the school.
“He could not go to a public park and stand around the merry-go-round while his kids played,” Beechler said. “You can’t go to the zoo, the pool, a park, soccer practice — all the things that we as parents do dealing with our kids just can’t happen the same way.”
Beechler said the logic of the law allowing sex offenders to go onto school property for matters pertaining to their own children is that “even though a person is on the registry, a parent needs to be a participant in the educational process.”
“That is going to mean occasional meetings to make sure the child is being educated,” Beechler said. “It is limited to specific times and prior approval is required.”
Assuming both the school and Phillips are following the agreed-on limits, Beechler said, he sees no likelihood that law enforcement would charge Phillips with anything.
Phillips “is probably doing the right thing to step back until any investigation is complete,” Beechler said.
Christie St. Angelo, the volunteer coordinator for the school’s parent teacher group MPACT (Millennium Parents and Concerned Teachers) said she was not aware that a sex offender had been coming to games, but is not concerned that it happens.
“I trust the school and they always tend to be on top of things,” she said. She added that someone in a gym is in full view of everyone.
A parent who asked for anonymity said that it was rumored that the school might hire Phillips as a coach if he has his name removed from the sex offender registry, as he is eligible to request.
Both the school and Phillips emphatically deny that’s even on the table.
“I would not do that to my family, myself or to any school,” Phillips said. “I will never coach again.”