James Winbush (copy)

In this 2010 file photo, James Winbush addressed students at Baptist Hill High School. Winbush, a former associate superintendent, agreed to a suspension of his educator licence following an investigation into his handling of an employee accused of possessing pornography on his district laptop. File/Alan Hawes/Staff

A former Charleston County School District supervisor has agreed to a retroactive two-year suspension of his state educator certificate following an investigation of a district employee accused of molesting students.

On Oct. 8, the S.C. State Board of Education suspended James Winbush's license retroactively from May 2017 to May 2019. Winbush agreed to the suspension and waived his right to a hearing.

Winbush was the associate superintendent of the middle school learning community at the time that Marvin Gethers, an employee at Dunston Primary School, was caught with pornography on his laptop computer in 2014.

Suspension or revocation of an educator’s certificate is sent to all school districts in South Carolina and to the National Association Of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification Clearinghouse. Prospective school employers could see that mark if a suspended educator sought a new job.

The state Board of Education’s consent order of suspension claims that Winbush had loaned Gethers money and did not remove him from his job at the school while he was under police investigation. 

In January 2014, Gethers reported his laptop wasn’t working. A district technician examined it and learned it had been used to view pornographic websites.

Winbush indicated he put Gethers on paid administrative leave, but there is no documentation of this, according to the suspension order.

Gethers spent about 10 days on administrative leave but was allowed to return to work sometime in mid-February 2014.

Winbush knew that Gethers had accessed pornography on his laptop when he allowed him to return to Dunston, according to a district-commissioned investigation completed in 2018 by attorney Wilbur Johnson.

Winbush maintained that he did not learn about any suspicions of child pornography until Gethers' arrest two years later.

"He knew that the employee had admitted at home he accessed adult pornography, and that's all he knew," said Nancy Bloodgood, Winbush's attorney. 

In May 2014, Winbush was told in an email for the first time that Gethers’ computer was turned over the North Charleston Police Department and that police had not informed the district of their findings.

The email also said a detective contacted the district’s security office to ask why Gethers was allowed to return to work, as the detective knew the employee’s laptop was screened for pornography that might include “underage models,” according to the consent order.

“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,” according to the consent order.

Bloodgood said, “I think the consent order vindicates Dr. Winbush, as it shows that there were personnel in the district who dropped the ball.”

When asked about Gethers, Winbush said Gethers had “returned to work and (been) reprimanded,” but neither Winbush nor other district officials documented that decision, the consent order said. 

In January 2016, North Charleston Police concluded Gethers' laptop was used to access child pornography, and Gethers was charged with third-degree criminal sexual conduct with a minor and first-degree sexual exploitation of a minor.

The charges stemmed from “acts of abuse upon two elementary school students that occurred after Dr. Winbush allowed the employee to return to school,” according to the consent order.

Gethers maintained his innocence until his death in 2017. 

At the time of Gethers' arrest, Winbush had been placed on administrative leave due to a separate investigation into his use of personal bank accounts for handling personal funds donated to schools for events. In 2018, the State Law Enforcement Division "found all funds associated with its investigation were private funds,” the consent order states.

Six students have come forward alleging sexual abuse by Gethers, according to their attorneys. The district settled with one boy for $300,000 last year, but it still is subject to at least one lawsuit filed by a student who has accused Gethers of sexual abuse.

Any suspension, retroactive or prospective, allows the suspended person to apply for reinstatement of their certificate. Winbush has not decided if he will reapply for his license to be reinstated, Bloodgood said. 

"This has been very difficult and traumatic for him," she said. "If he had the money, he would not have even agreed to this consent order. But at a certain point, you stop fighting it."

Winbush stopped working at the district once the 2015-16 school year ended, according to Andy Pruitt, a district spokesman. The district had no further comment on Winbush's suspension.

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Contact Jenna Schiferl at 843-937-5764. Follow her on Twitter at @jennaschif. 

Jenna Schiferl is a Columbia native and a reporter at The Post and Courier. She has previously worked as an editor at Garnet & Black Magazine.