No charges are forthcoming against a former Greenon Local School District teacher accused of sexual misconduct with grade school students.
Clark County Prosecutor Andy Wilson said the Clark County Sheriff’s Office investigation into whether Larry Yowler committed a crime has not found evidence to support charges.
Yowler, who had taught for 20 years and was teaching second grade at Indian Valley Intermediate School, was placed on paid administrative leave in January after a protection order request was filed in Clark County Common Pleas Court that accused him of sexual misconduct in the classroom.
A second protection order was filed in February by the family of a different Indian Valley student.
Those requests, seeking to prevent Yowler from having contact with the students and their families, are still pending and a competency hearing is scheduled for Friday.
Wilson said the criminal investigation found abnormal behavior by Yowler in the classroom, but not enough to charge him.
“Mr. Yowler’s conduct in the classroom is inappropriate, it’s bizarre, it’s strange and it’s disgusting,” Wilson said. “But we don’t have any independent or actual collaborating evidence that a crime for which he could be charged with has occurred at this point.”
Wilson said the investigation found Yowler would have students sit on his lap, he would brush student’s hair and allow them to comb his. Wilson said that’s not illegal.
The Clark County Sheriff’s Office launched their investigation when they were contacted by a mother of a student in his class who alleged Yowler touched the student’s private areas.
Yowler’s attorney, Samuel Petroff, didn’t respond to emails seeking comment for this article but previously released a statement saying Yowler is a good teacher and did nothing wrong.
Yowler has since retired from the district.
Though the sheriff’s office has not uncovered evidence for criminal charges, public records obtained by the Springfield News-Sun show a Greenon internal investigation found Yowler did violate school policy.
“You repeatedly grabbed the buttocks of one female student while giving her hugs,” a letter dated Feb. 9, 2018 from Greenon Local School District Superintendent Brad Silvus to Yowler says. “You repeatedly grabbed female students by the waist to physically force them to sit on your lap or to be weighed on a scale in your classroom.”
The school also found Yowler repeatedly rubbed the backs of various female students in the classroom, one down below the waistline, according to the letter.
Wilson said the school investigation and the criminal investigation are different and each has different standards of guilt. Investigators were unable to find collaborating proof that Yowler illegally touched students, Wilson said, which is why his office is not filing charges.
The mother of one of the accusers said in an exclusive interview with the Springfield News-Sun that she is upset about the lack of action.
“I want him held accountable,” the mother said. “At the end of the day, the children of the district are children and should be protected.”
The Springfield News-Sun is withholding the mother’s name to protect the identity of her daughter.
Protection Order Request
Yowler was originally put on paid administrative leave from Greenon on Jan. 24, a couple days after a protection order request was filed by the mother in Clark County Common Pleas Court.
Yowler was accused of fondling the student and making her sit on his lap, according to a protection order requested.
The student claims Yowler on multiple occasions allegedly touched her private areas and forced her to sit on his lap during reading time, the protection order request says.
The mother asked her daughter how many times this had happened and the daughter allegedly told her more than 10 times, according to the protection order request.
“It came out Jan. 19,” the mother said in her interview with the Springfield News-Sun. “We had gone to the store the evening of the 19th and we were almost done in the grocery and all of a sudden she just kind of looked up at me and said ‘Mommy, Mr. Yowler touches (me) all the time. That’s not something you ever expect to hear from one of your children.”
Her daughter’s accusations nearly took the breath out of her and her husband, she said.
“I kind of started asking more questions and so she starts by telling us that it had been going on for a while and it was making her uncomfortable,” the mother said.
She told her daughter that telling the truth was important because of the consequences, and she contends her daughter never wavered.
“I told her since day one all I want from you is to tell me the truth,” the mother said. “We explained to her what was going to happen and she was adamant that it happened. This is the kind of kid that tries to lie about brushing her teeth or what she had for lunch and you see right through her. She was telling the truth. This really happened.”
A second protection order request was filed against Yowler on Feb. 15 by a different mother to a different student.
In that request, the second Indian Valley student alleged that Yowler had inappropriately touched her.
“Mr. Yowler has on multiple occasions hugged the minor child while grabbing minor child’s buttocks,” the second protection order request says. “Mr. Yowler on multiple occasions has tried to physically force the minor child to sit on his lap.”
The second protection order also says Yowler allegedly forced students onto a scale against their will.
“Mr. Yowler has also requested minor child read to him while he sat behind his desk,” the request says. “Minor child has witnessed Mr. Yowler place other female students on his lap behind his desk. Minor child has also witnessed Mr. Yowler force others onto the scale.”
In letters to Yowler dated Feb. 9 and Feb. 14, Silvus tells him that the school launched an internal investigation against him and found he violated board policy.
The employee who completed the investigation was Principal Darrin Knapke, the district’s Anti-Harassment Compliance Officer, the letter says. Silvus says in a letter he reviewed Knapke’s report on Feb. 9.
“As a result of an internal investigation regarding reports of you engaging in inappropriate and harassing conduct towards second grade and fifth-grade female students at Indian Valley Intermediate School this school year, you were found to have engaged in the following conduct which constitutes violations of the board’s anti-harassment policy,” a letter says.
The Springfield News-Sun requested but was denied the internal investigation report completed by the district.
However, in letters to Yowler, Silvus details the findings.
Silvus says in the Feb. 9 letter that Yowler:
- Repeatedly hugged various female students
- Repeatedly grabbed the buttocks of one female student while giving her hugs
- Repeatedly grabbed female students by the waist to physically force them to sit on your lap or to be weighed on a scale in your classroom
- Repeatedly allowed female students to brush your hair in the classroom
- Ran your hands through the hair of female students
- Repeatedly had female students sit on your lap in the classroom
- Repeatedly rubbed the backs of various female students in the classroom, one down below the waistline.”
Silvus notified Yowler of his decision in a letter dated Feb. 14, 2018. “Based upon my review, it is my final decision that the report of harassment is substantiated and I am upholding the findings and recommendations contained in Mr. Knapke’s report…” the letter says.
“Findings: Mr. Yowler engaged in harassing conduct of a sexual nature towards female students at Indian Valley Intermediate Schools during the 2017-2018 school year, including making unwelcomed physical contact… ” the letter says.
The letter goes on to say Yowler engaged in a pattern of conduct that has sexual overtones and that had the effect of creating discomfort to female students.
Silvus recommended the Greenon School Board place Yowler on unpaid suspension and initiate termination proceedings during a special meeting on Feb. 13.
The board elected to table the decision. Greenon School Board President Dennis Henry did not reply to an email seeking comment for this article. He said at the time it was a difficult situation.
The mother of the first student said the decision to not take action was disheartening for her and her family.
“How can the superintendent that you hired into the position based on his qualifications, how can he say you know what, I’ve spoken to an attorney and everything and we want him terminated,” the mother said. “How can a school board ignore that?”
No criminal charges
Wilson said law enforcement has worked hard on the case.
“Our office has worked with the sheriff’s department through the course of this investigation,” Wilson said. “We had to issue subpoenas to the school to get them to give us information about their internal investigation. We’ve issued search warrants to Mr. Yowler’s home as part of these investigations
Wilson said brushing kids hair and allowing kids to brush his hair was one of the more bizarre actions the investigation uncovered. However, it doesn’t rise to the level of criminal, he said.
A lot of times, Wilson said, allegations of a sexual nature don’t need collaborating evidence because of the circumstances — a lot of sex abuse happens when no one is watching — but the allegations against Yowler are that they were committed in the classroom with other students present.
“When the allegation happens in a room full of people where you would expect there to be some level of testimony or statements to support the story, we do look for that and hope to find that,” Wilson said. “Sometimes in the absence of that, it impedes our ability to move forward.”
Clark County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Kristopher Shultz said in an email, “Due to the nature of the alleged offenses, it will remain an open investigation until such time as charges can be filed or there is definitive clearance of the case.”
The mother who filed the first protection order request said she wants charges pressed against Yowler.
“No one is doing anything and I am hoping by speaking up that people are going to see that: One, this really happened,” she said. “Two, that something needs to be done that isn’t being done.”
She said Yowler not being criminally charged is tough for her because of conversations she had with her daughter.
“My thing is when my daughter told me that night I made a couple promises to her,” the mother said. “I promised her that she could finally relax, and I would take over. She no longer had to worry. I would be her voice. I promised her that the police would make sure that he is punished. It is against the law. We have laws in this country for a reason.
She said the last seven months have been difficult on her and her family.
“Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought we would be sitting here seven months later and nothing has been done,” she said.
Emails from community members and parents
Yowler was a popular teacher in the school district and had many supporters, according to emails obtained by the Springfield News-Sun from Greenon via a public records request.
“I am not writing to prove Mr. Yowler’s innocence or guilt, but I feel the need to let you know what (redacted) has said,” a parent in the district said. “I have questioned (redacted) numerous times about the allegations and (redacted) has told me repeatedly that (redacted) has not seen anything inappropriate in class.”
A former colleague of Yowler also said she didn’t believe the allegations.
“First, he has served exemplary for 20 years with fine notes in his personnel file,” retired Greenon teacher Barbara Arnold said in an email. “Why at this time would he suddenly do something wrong?”
She goes on to say hugging, touching and even letting students sit on her lap was never considered wrong when she taught.
“How sad we have become so politically correct that caring is no longer permitted,” the email says. “I hope this distinguished gentleman is vindicated and permitted to continue as the outstanding teacher he has shown to be.”
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