A Delaware school board member is sitting in prison, facing 19 felony counts of rape and sexual abuse of two brothers who were minors.
Yet Ronnie C. Williams can remain on the Colonial School District’s board at least until the resolution of his criminal case. The charges were filed Friday, and the Superior Court process usually takes several months. He is being held in prison with bail set at $345,000 cash, records show, but if he posts bail he is free to attend Colonial’s regular monthly meetings.
School district officials said that they knew about the 14-month investigation of Williams while it was active, but that they were powerless to act.
Delaware law contains no specific mechanism to suspend or remove a school board member for misconduct or other reasons, said John Marinucci, president of the Delaware School Boards Association.
In a written statement, Colonial said, “The district must allow the police investigation and judicial process to run its course while Williams retains the ability to remain on the board. The Colonial School District also does not have the authority or responsibility under the law to interfere with publicly elected individuals.”
Superintendent Dusty Blakey said in the same statement that Williams’ arrest “is very unsettling and we are all saddened for the alleged victims.”
In a district Facebook post, Blakey added that state law stipulates that “the Department of Elections governs who can run for public office. Therefore, as a matter of law, the Colonial School District has no say in the election process, the vetting of candidates who are elected by voters, or the consequences of being arrested.”
Blakey would not agree to be interviewed, but a spokeswoman said he “has already reached out to Delaware lawmakers to strengthen the guidelines regarding school board members.”
Board president Ted Laws did not respond to WHYY’s request for comment. Nor did Gov. John Carney’s office.
‘Not a level of seriousness about vetting’
Friday’s arrest was the latest brush with the law for the 41-year-old Williams, a JPMorgan Chase vice president who won a five-year term on Colonial’s board in May 2018. School board posts are unpaid.
Two months after he was elected, New Castle County police charged him with offensive touching for punching a boy at his house. Williams pleaded guilty in Family Court, in a case that received no media coverage. But that domestic violence incident triggered the probe that led to rape charges relating to incidents that occurred as early as 2010.
The victim in the punching case told police that Williams often forced him to take pills and watch pornography and masturbate while Williams watched, and that Williams often touched his genitals, court records show. Williams was a friend of the boy’s mother, who let the child spend the night at Williams’ home, documents show.
That boy’s older brother later told police that Williams routinely performed oral sex on him when he was 12 to 15 years old.
Court papers also show that 14 years before Williams ran for office, police charged him with six counts of unlawful sexual contact with a child. After a trial, he was acquitted on four counts, and prosecutors dropped the other two, the records show.
The Williams saga disturbs Atnreakn Alleyne, who heads the education nonprofit Delaware Campaign for Achievement Now. Alleyne’s group has studied the lack of scrutiny for school board candidates as well as the minuscule voter turnout.
“We’ve been sounding the alarm,’’ Alleyne said. “We were talking about the quality of people we never imagined, kind of like the criminal nature of what we’re seeing and the heinousness of what we’re seeing. It just shows there’s not a level of seriousness about vetting the people that are making decisions on school boards in Delaware.”
“This is … one of the more extreme cases of what could happen, but it has happened and we’re still seeing that he’s in jail and he’s still on the board,” he added.
Alleyne said his group wants Williams to resign while he sorts out his legal issues. His group also has reached out to lawmakers to see if the law can be changed.
Williams has been Colonial’s representative on the Delaware School Boards Association. Marinucci said the criminal allegations are shocking.
“He’s been a regular at our meetings. I find him a strong thought partner when it comes to legislative issues, school board issues,” Marinucci said.
Williams has been a regular at meetings, but should he post bail and show up for one, Marinucci said, “I would probably take him outside and just tell him that it’s probably not a good idea for him to be there.”