Memphis-Shelby County Schools Superintendent Joris Ray supervised at least two women his wife alleges he had affairs with, personnel files reveal.
Employee performance evaluation documents from 2005, 2008, and 2009, acquired by Chalkbeat July 29 via public records requests, show Ray was the direct supervisor of one of three women said to have engaged in a sexual relationship with him in divorce filings.
Ray became an alternative schools coordinator in 2002, and later became the head of the Office of Alternative Schools in 2006. The woman’s personnel records for 2008 and 2009 don’t specify the woman’s position, but she held several roles, including as a records clerk, secretary, and administrative assistant in various district offices while employed at the district from August 2001 to October 2018.
The woman received high marks from Ray in all performance reviews. Ray gave her a score of 30 out of 35 in a June 2005 review, when she was a records clerk, calling her a “dedicated and loyal employee.”
“She far exceeds the job knowledge for the position,” Ray wrote. “I will not hesitate to recommend her for any desired position.”
In a June 2008 review, Ray gave the woman a 4.4 out of 5, and a score of 4.7 in a July 2009 review. The woman’s personnel file does not include reviews from 2006 or 2007. It also does not make clear when she left the Office of Alternative Schools, but she received her first review from the district’s policy office in August 2011.
Earlier this week, The Commercial Appeal reported another of the three women was a subordinate to Ray in 2004, when she is said to have signed a nondisclosure agreement about their affair. Chalkbeat obtained those records.
The timeline and other details regarding the two alleged affairs are unclear, so it is not known whether the alleged affairs took place while Ray was supervising the women. Ray admitted to having sexual relations outside of his marriage with three women in recent court filings from his divorce, but the documents do not specify when the alleged relationships occured, other than a reference to the NDA signed by one of the women in January 2004.
Robert L.J. Spence Jr., the attorney representing Ray, did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Friday. In a statement to Chalkbeat earlier this month, Spence said “allegations asserted in court pleadings should not be reported as truths.”
It is also unclear whether either of the alleged affairs fall within the scope of the school board’s investigation. Asked whether the breadth of the investigation has changed, Board Chair Michelle McKissack responded with a statement: “Under the guidance of our legal counsel the Board must limit comments while the investigation is underway.”
Current district policy “strongly discourages romantic or sexual relationships between a manager or other supervisory employee and their staff,” according to the district’s employee handbook, citing the risk of actual or perceived conflicts of interest, favoritism, and bias.
The policy also requires parties to disclose any relationship to managers. Chalkbeat on July 14 filed an open records request asking the school district whether Ray disclosed any such relationships. On Friday afternoon, the district responded that it does not possess any such documents.
Ray has previously denied violating any district policies.
The school board also has a policy, adopted in 2017, spelling out the ethical code the superintendent must follow. The code requires the superintendent “to maintain standards of exemplary professional conduct” and includes the following statement the superintendent must subscribe to: “I will endeavor to fulfill my professional responsibilities with honesty and integrity.”
On July 13, the MSCS board voted 7-2 to launch an outside investigation into whether Ray abused his power and violated district policies on relationships with co-workers during his tenure as superintendent. With the same vote, the board selected former U.S. attorney Edward L. Stanton III to lead the investigation and appointed Herman Morris Jr. to advise the board before, during, and after the inquiry.
Ray, who has served as the leader of Tennessee’s largest school district for over three years, remains on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation. John Barker, deputy superintendent for strategic operations and finance, and Angela Whitelaw, deputy superintendent of schools and academic support, are serving in his place.
Samantha West is a reporter for Chalkbeat Tennessee, where she covers K-12 education in Memphis. Connect with Samantha at firstname.lastname@example.org.