SMS principal now on administrative leave; publisher presses: “When were ABSS officials first made aware of student allegations of abuse?”; sister says brother “unjustly accused”
Alamance County sheriff Terry Johnson revealed Monday afternoon during a joint press conference that there may be as many as five additional victims of felony indecent liberties by a Southern Middle School teacher who was arrested last week based on two victims’ allegations. The sheriff also said that he expects that more victims may come forward now that the teacher has been arrested.
Ivan Danilo Ardila-Perez, white male, 37, of Maple Avenue in Burlington, was arrested last Wednesday night on two charges of felony indecent liberties with a student and two charges of felony indecent liberties with a child. He was booked in the Alamance County jail, where he is being held under $100,000 secured bond (actually two separate, secured bonds of $50,000 each).
The sheriff said Monday afternoon that his investigation had revealed there was probable cause to believe that Ardila-Perez, a Spanish teacher and soccer coach at Southern Middle School, had inappropriate sexual contact with seven female students between ages 11 to 13 on school property and during school hours, the sheriff explained during the joint press conference with ABSS superintendent Dr. Dain Butler.
Investigators with the sheriff’s Special Victims Unit (SVU) identified the first two victims after the parent of one of the alleged victims called Alamance County 9-1-1 at 9:30 a.m. last Wednesday, April 26, Johnson said.
“Alamance County [SVU] immediately began an investigation at Southern Middle School,” the sheriff elaborated. “As the investigation moved forward, five other minor students came forward.”
The sheriff loosely described the alleged sexual offenses by Ardila-Perez as “inappropriate touching,” though he added that the arrest warrants and/or any forthcoming bills of indictments would outline the specific nature of the alleged crimes by Ardila-Perez.
The sheriff’s office has “not obtained paperwork” yet on the additional five female victims, the sheriff said Monday. Alamance County district attorney Sean Boone asked Johnson to hold off on pursuing charges related to additional, alleged victims until the investigation is complete, the sheriff said during the press conference.
“The actions of one individual do not reflect the values of our school system. This kind of behavior is simply unacceptable. . .
“He will be recommended for termination by me to the school board.”
– ABSS superintendent Dr. Dain Butler
Flanked by five of six current school board members, Butler said during the press conference, “This is a serious matter that deserves our attention.”
Butler pointed out that a “zero-tolerance” policy he implemented for ABSS students last fall – under which certain types of violent crime committed at school automatically result in long-term suspension and/or possibly expulsion – also applies to school employees.
“The actions of one individual do not reflect the values of our school system,” the superintendent said Monday afternoon. “This kind of behavior is simply unacceptable.”
Butler confirmed during the press conference that Ardila-Perez had been hired to teach at Southern Middle School in September 2022, apparently through a Visiting International Faculty program or one of several organizations that ABSS works with and allows teachers from other countries to teach in North Carolina public schools on temporary work visas. He said that such temporary work visas are typically good for four years, adding that ABSS has strict policies and procedures in place to ensure all employees are thoroughly vetted before they’re hired.
Nonetheless, Butler acknowledged that even the most thorough background checks and interview processes can’t predict a future problem such as the alleged crimes by Ardila-Perez.
The school system has subsequently confirmed that he was recruited to work through Participate Learning in Chapel Hill.
That organization counts former ABSS superintendent Dr. Bill Harrison as a senior education advisor; and former ABSS teacher of the year and N.C. Teacher of the Year Freebird McKinney is now employed there as the director of partnership development.
Ardila-Perez had previously been employed as a faculty member in the foreign language institute at the Universidad Santo Tomás in Colombia, according to his online resume.
In light of the pending charges, however, the superintendent said that the temporary work visa for Ardila-Perez will likely be revoked. “He will be recommended for termination by me to the school board,” Butler emphasized during the joint press conference.
According to a question asked by another media outlet during the press conference, at least one incident of alleged indecent liberties between Ardila-Perez and a student may have taken place on a Sunday.
However, Butler said, “At this point, I think that might not be accurate.”
When did reports of abuse first surface?
“We were not aware,” the superintendent said when pressed about when some of the alleged offenses had occurred. Butler said that the time he was notified about the investigation – last Wednesday – was “very near” when he got involved.
A representative from the sheriff’s SVU who was present during the press conference said that investigators had not been made aware of the dates when the alleged crimes occurred. Seven investigators within the SVU worked on the investigation after the alleged victim’s parent called 911 last Wednesday morning, according to a brief chronology given at the press conference.
SMS Principal Matt Ritter placed on administrative leave
However, The Alamance News has learned that Southern Middle School principal Matt Ritter had been made aware of the allegations on Friday, April 21.
Butler confirmed that Ritter has been placed on administrative leave. The superintendent declined to specify whether Ritter has been placed on administrative leave with pay; he also declined to say whether that decision is connected to the criminal charges against Ardila-Perez, citing the issue as a personnel matter.
In response to subsequent questions from Alamance News publisher Tom Boney, Jr. about when the Southern Middle School administration was made aware of the allegations, Butler said, “We are following up with our own internal investigation.”
The superintendent paused to offer a separate statement for the alleged victims: “I apologize on behalf of ABSS – this is not okay.” He also stressed that ABSS has school counselors, whom he expects to have an open door for all students, at all times.
The newspaper’s publisher pressed several times during the press conference about the time frame when any ABSS official was made aware of the allegations of improper conduct by Ardila-Perez.
In addition to the principal having been told of the allegation on April 21 (several days before law enforcement was made aware through a victim’s parent), the newspaper has learned that at least one victim says she told a school counselor of her experience with Ardila-Perez as far back as January (about three to four months ago), and yet nothing was done – no investigation initiated, no ABSS superiors were informed of the allegation, and no information about the allegation was provided to the school resource officer (SRO) on Southern Middle School’s campus.
Later in the day, in response to a public records request from The Alamance News, the school system provided information that the principal, Joel Matthew Ritter, 42, was placed on administrative leave with pay on the same day (last Wednesday, April 26) that Ardila-Perez was suspended. Ritter, who has worked for the school system since August 1, 2002, has been making $101,051.64, according to the school system.
“Abuse is never acceptable, and it is never the fault of the victim,” Butler said during the press conference. “It is a terrible violation of trust.
“Once again, despite our best efforts, people choose to do the wrong thing and when we’re made aware, we investigate those concerns,” the superintendent acknowledged. “I want our ABSS families to know: at any time, at any school, please know that your child can talk with their counselor should they have concerns about a staff member or anything else going on in their lives…If you see something or hear something that even in the slightest seems out of place, alert us. It is important that we work together as a community to ensure the safety and well-being of all our students.”
For his part, Johnson said he was “not in a position to answer” whether the sheriff’s office had received any previous reports regarding inappropriate contact or alleged indecent liberties by Ardila-Perez.
Ardila-Perez was initially suspended with pay but has since been transferred to suspension without pay, Butler said Monday. “Initially, we have to do [it] with pay, legally,” the superintendent explained.
“These situations are minimal, but one is too many,” Butler emphasized at the conclusion of the press conference.
Ardila-Perez had been employed at Southern Middle School since September 12, 2022, according to information that ABSS furnished in response to a public records request by The Alamance News.
He was also given an “extra duty assignment” as the men’s soccer coach on April 4 of this year. His current salary is $52,405 per year. He was suspended from work with ABSS last Wednesday.
Ardila-Perez made his first appearance in Alamance County district court late last week; his next appearance is currently scheduled for May 18, according to Alamance County court documents.
Meanwhile, The Alamance News heard from Ardila-Perez’s sister, Jenny Ardila, through an email in which she described her brother as “unjustly accused.” She says he came “to the United States to improve the economic conditions of the family,” adding that “he has an 8-year-old son who he loves and adores. . . They are accusing an innocent person,” she said, “and destroying a home.”
Alamance County sheriff’s spokesman Byron Tucker said at the outset of Monday’s press conference – which he said was believed to be the first of its kind in recent years – that the heads of both organizations (sheriff Johnson and superintendent Butler) felt it was important for the public to hear directly from them, given the nature of the charges.
What are potential charges if ABSS officials knew of allegations, but did not report them? https://alamancenews.com/what-are-potential-charges-if-abss-officials-knew-of-allegations-but-did-not-report-them/
Interim principal named for Southern Middle School: https://alamancenews.com/interim-principal-appointed-at-sms/