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Teacher misconduct accusations triple statewide

Accusations of inappropriate teacher behavior have tripled statewide since 2007, according to Ohio Department of Education records.

Regionally, problems with lewd text messages, inappropriate Facebook posts, physical threats and sex acts among teachers is far reaching — including ones from Centerville, Madison, Mason, Wayne and Northeastern school districts, among others.

Some experts blame social media for the increased cases of bad teacher behavior. The rise in numbers, state officials say, also may be attributable to a better reporting system.

“Because of social media we find that students will text their teachers and send them e-mails…They don’t often think this might not be an appropriate way to communicate with a student,” said John Holbrook, assistant Academic director and Secondary Education Field Placement coordinator for the University of Cincinnati. “We particularly tend to see this in secondary education.”

Students and parents can watch everything teachers do online, Holbrook said.

“We’re role models. Our behavior and how we act is something we have to be cognizant of,” Centerville Superintendent Tom Henderson said. “I think we always expect all of our staff members to act professionally in everything that they do.”

Michael Weaver, a former Centerville High School teacher and girls golf coach, was indicted in January on three felony counts of sexual battery after an adult victim reported to police that alleged sexual activity took place between her and Weaver during her sophomore year at the high school.

Weaver, who is on paid administrative leave, was arrested, but released from jail after posting bond. His next court date is Friday.

The Ohio Department of Education investigates whether a teacher’s license should be revoked or suspended when it receives reports of bad teacher behavior. Depending on the type reported, a teacher’s inappropriate behavior toward a student is classified by the state as a case of conduct unbecoming or a sexual offense.

Conduct unbecoming can be defined as crimes or misconduct involving minors, school children, or a plea of guilty to or conviction of federal, state, or local laws and any other crimes or misconduct that negatively reflect upon the teaching profession.

The number of conduct unbecoming cases reported increased from 250 in 2007 to 754 in 2011, according to state records. Specific sexual offenses investigated by the ODE’s Office of Professional Conduct have decreased since 2008, when the total number of these cases was 100. In 2011, the most recent records available, the number of cases totaled 43.

Teacher, not friend

Stacy Lynn Schuler, 32, of Springboro served prison time after she was convicted in 2011 in Warren County Common Pleas Court on 16 counts of sexual battery and three misdemeanor offenses involving underage persons. Authorities said Schuler, a former Mason High School physical education and health teacher, had sex with five Mason students, most of them football players. The acts took place off school property and on five occasions in 2010.

Schuler also worked as a trainer for Alter High School in Kettering.

“Many of these kids have emotional needs and maybe for the first time in their lives there is someone who cares about them,” said Charles Russo, Panzer Chair in Education at the University of Dayton and adjunct professor for UD’s law school, referring to how these types of inappropriate relationships develop.

“These people are predators who can recognize kids with emotional weaknesses…It’s not only against the law, it’s seriously harmful for a teacher to take advantage of students.”

He said some teachers are emotionally immature.

“There is a certain amount of immaturity and lack of judgement on a part of teachers. I wonder if these teachers realize that they can go to prison doing these types of actions,” Russo said.

Last year, Wayne High School Spanish Teacher Kelsey Hartmann was caught performing a sex act on a 16-year-old student while in her vehicle near Canal Lock Park, according to Huber Heights police. Hartmann, 27, of Centerville, was arrested and jailed, pending the formal filing of three felony charges of sexual battery in Montgomery County Common Pleas Court. She is now free on bond, while her case makes its way to grand jury.

Henderson and other experts recommend teachers not befriend students on social media sites and he is not a fan of teachers giving their cell phone numbers to students.

“It has potential to open doors for problems,” he said.

They also recommended teachers and coaches not socialize with students after the designated hours they are supposed to be around each other.

In 2011, James Zaborowski, a former Urbana High School teacher, was sentenced to three years probation after he hid sexually explicit images of minors from investigators. The case against him started in 2009 when investigators accused Zaborowski of having inappropriate contact with a teenage student via e-mail. He ended up surrendering his teacher’s license and his pupil activity supervisor permit.

“Once the specific allegations about Mr. Zaborowski were publicized, there were discussions with staff about maintaining a professional demeanor when communicating with students and others using social media,” said Charles Thiel, superintendent of Urbana City Schools.

“If we allow students to become too familiar with their teachers, then I think some of the respect they get as a teacher gets lost,” Russo said. “As a teacher, you just need one accusation to ruin your career.”

The state’s use of the Bureau of Criminal Investigation and Identification’s Rapback fingerprint database allows the ODE “to learn of offenses when they occur and quickly take action,” said Dennis Evans, ODE spokesman.

“OEA believes that educators should maintain professional and appropriate relationships with students at all times to help students achieve,” said Julie Newhall, spokeswoman for the Ohio Education Association. “Educators should establish and maintain appropriate boundaries and avoid the appearance of impropriety in interactions with students.”

Holbrook said teachers have no excuse because they are taught the dos and donts in training.

“Very clearly, on day one they see what is appropriate and what is not appropriate,” Holbrook said of teachers. “It’s not appropriate to be their friend.”

Holbrook said teachers always need to remember the following, “We’re not the parent. We’re not the friend.”

Patrick Dubbs, superintendent of Wayne Local Schools, said a recent incident involving a former basketball coach found in close proximity with a student in a dark school gym in Waynesville, prompted discussions with some of his staff about what they expect of incoming coaches and seasonal employees.

“When you have something like this happen, you take an internal look at how you do things better,” Dubbs said. “We’ve had some internal discussions about talking to those employees and making sure they understand the expectations and the consequences.”

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