NEWKIRK, Okla. – As investigations into the Peckham Public Schools superintendent push forward, some people in the community say they’re surprised, while others have been waiting for years.
Superintendent Gary Young is the center of multiple allegations of sexual abuse that began surfacing this week. Former teachers and former students have brought the allegations to the Oklahoma Department of Education, which suspended his teaching and superintendent certificates Thursday.
Many in the community immediately jumped to his defense on social media. In Peckham, one student and her mother who declined to go on camera said they have never had a problem with him.
“He fought like the devil to keep our school, I mean he really did,” said Peckham resident Sandra Fries. Her mother and aunt worked in the school kitchen for at least a decade, and she said they never seemed to have an issue with him either.
But Fries still said she takes the allegations seriously.
“I just hope they can get to the truth and that,” Fries said, “because we want to keep our children safe, and if this is going on, we do need to get it taken care of.”
Former employee Ginny Engle said she had a bad gut feeling about Young after working in the school kitchen herself, as well as driving a bus.
“When I got near him, I got around him, I didn`t, I wasn`t comfortable with him,” Engle said. “I didn`t, I couldn`t put my finger on it, I have no proof or evidence of anything wrongdoing, it`s just in your heart of hearts.”
Engle said she remembered Young had brightly colored shag furniture in his office, along with a pallet with a shag rug on it.
“I just, you don’t see that,” Engle said. “I’d never seen that when I was in school. I just wouldn’t think that that’s a normal thing to do.”
In 2015, Young told News 4 30% of the students admitted to the school system have cognitive disabilities. Engle and Fries both said they also remember the school system began accepting higher numbers of students who struggled in and left the Blackwell Public Schools system.
“Sometimes we had some of the most vulnerable children there,” Engle said. “We had kids that lived in their car and whose parents had issues and stuff like that so to me they were very vulnerable and didn’t have anyplace else to go… So here they were at Peckham, and to me, they probably were the ones you could take the most advantage of, in my opinion.”
That same year, a complaint was made to the Blackwell Police Department by a girl who alleged Young rubbed her inappropriately, kissed her, and invited her to go into the basement with him. No charges ever came of it but now the Blackwell Police Department and the DOE are taking it under consideration as they move forward with the investigations into Young.
“I think justice needs to be done, justice needs to be served, and it should have been years ago,” said grandparent Debra Lynn Courtney. She said she has been trying to expose that report and see action taken on Young since it happened. Now the new allegations have given her hope something will happen.
“Hallelujah,” she said, “his day has come.”
News 4 sent emails to members of the Peckham school board, and left a message for them with employees inside the temporary school office in Peckham, but has not heard back.
News 4 also tried to reach Young at his home and on the phone, but no one answered the door, and his voicemail was full.