Michelle Robinson McKissack, the chairperson of the Memphis-Shelby County Schools Board, talks about Wednesday evening’s decision to place Supt. Dr. Joris Ray on administrative leave pending the conclusion of an investigation into alleged improprieties involving Ray and school personnel. Nearly 20 public speakers spoke during the special hearing, with most supporting Ray, who expressed “disappointment” in the board’s action, but said he “respects the oversight of the board.” (Photo: Gary S. Whitlow/GSW Enterprises/The New Tri-State Defender.)

The administrative oversight of Memphis Shelby County Schools has been taken out of the hands of Supt. Dr. Joris Ray, who will be on paid leave pending the conclusion and results of an independent investigation into allegations of sexual impropriety.

Board members made the 7-2 decision during a special hearing held Wednesday evening. Acting up a resolution by MSCS General Counsel Kenneth M. Walker II, the board chose Edward L. Stanton III, former U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Tennessee, to conduct the investigation. Stanton now is associated with the Butler Snow Law Firm.

Accounting for Ray’s administrative role while the investigation is underway will be Deputy Supt. John Barker and Deputy Supt. Angela Whitelaw.

School board commissioners Stephanie Love and Joyce Coleman cast the dissenting votes.

Ray, who maintains that he has not broken board policy, was given time to make brief remarks immediately after the vote.

“I am deeply disappointed by the board’s action tonight,” said Ray. “But I want everyone to know that I respect the oversight of the board, and they have my full cooperation.”

The MSCS board conducts the special hearing that concluded with Supt. Ray being put on paid administrative leave pending an investigation into whether he broke board policy regarding intimate relations with employees. (Photo: Gary S. Whitlow/GSW Enterprises/The New Tri-State Defender)

School Board Chair Michelle McKissack held a brief press conference outside of the administration building after the meeting. Nearby was attorney Herman Ewing, whom the board has selected to represent the body through the investigation process.

McKissack said the exact guidelines of the administrative leave would be set by Thursday (July 14).

Wednesday’s highly-anticipated special hearing drew hundreds of parents, teachers, principals and others concerned about the board’s decision on alleged admissions of infidelity in Ray’s divorce filings.

Recent reports regarding divorce proceedings between Ray and his wife point to Ray as admitting that he had intimate relations with three women outside of the couple’s marriage. Two of the women named in the filings reportedly either are or were MCSC employees.

Nearly 20 public speakers were allowed brief remarks before the board’s discussion and subsequent action. Many were principals and teachers, who praised Ray as an exceptional leader and offered words of encouragement regarding the ordeal.

Dr. Steven Hunter, a pastor and a principal, asked the school board not to disturb the MSCS momentum.

“Dr. Ray has done a yeoman’s job in leading this school district,” said Hunter. “As a principal, I have drawn both innovation and inspiration from him. Our schools are on the move. Don’t stop the momentum.”

Damon Curry Morris called the allegations “a distraction.”

“I just want to ask those of you who have expressed all these words of praise for Dr. Ray, what is the example being set for our children?”

MSCS Supt. Dr. Joris Ray speaks at the kickoff of last month’s Leadership Symposium, which afforded hundreds of principals across Shelby County and the region to learn from top experts. (Photo: MSCS Twitter)

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