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Auburn Teacher Remains on Leave as Investigations Continue

The Auburn School District placed an Auburn Riverside High School teacher and coach on leave December 6th, after allegations of inappropriate conduct. The teacher was placed on leave after the district was notified of a video on YouTube “showing a staff member allegedly seeking an inappropriate relationship with an underage child,” said Dr. Alan Spicciati, Auburn School District Superintendent.

In the wake of the allegations, the school district sent home a letter to school district families and staff.  Auburn police were notified and acknowledged their involvement and support of ASD in an online statement.

ARHS Principal David Halford maintained communication with parents during the following week.  He outlined the means the school and district were supporting students.   He assured parents that his “goal is to always support the students and community of ARHS, as physical and emotional safety is our top priority.”

Counselors from the district were made available throughout the week for any student that needed them.  In a letter sent home to ARHS families Friday, December 13th, Halford shared that  “by Thursday, the need for large group support sessions had waned and ARHS counselors worked one on one with students as a need arose. Sadly, the anonymity of the internet lends itself to negative comments and memes. Administrators spent time investigating and attempting to reduce these issues throughout the week, while at the same time supporting those impacted by them.”(Read Principal Halford’s full letter)

Past Allegations

Auburn police records show that the teacher in question has had two prior allegations of a similar nature made against them.  A report in 2009 indicates an 11th-grade ARHS student made allegations that included the teacher inappropriately massaged his shoulders, patted his butt, and sent suggestive text messages.

A former student who was referenced by the reporting student was also interviewed.  The former student stated his relationship with the teacher was friendly, but that there was nothing inappropriate between them.  The case was forwarded to the prosecutor.  No charges were filed. A second report from 2016 alleges the teacher confessed on the “Whisper” app that he was a teacher and loved when young girls wore low shirts and tight pants.  The “Whisper” app is an anonymous social media app used to share secrets with those in your geographic vicinity.   According to the reporting student the individual provided several photos of female students from Auburn and identified himself as the ARHS teacher. (Read the Full Report).

Auburn police investigated the claims made by the student.  Both the student and the ARHS teacher were interviewed.  All the teacher’s electronics were searched.  The student did not provide their devices to be searched.  Detectives determined that due to the lack of evidence on the teacher’s electronic devices and the lack of credibility of the reporting party, the teacher was not involved in the “Whisper” posts. (Read the full report).

New Allegations Against Auburn Teacher

A former ARHS student has come forward with new allegations against the teacher.  After seeing the video online, the student told Q13 Fox he “was sick to my stomach. I wanted to throw up.”

In the interview with Q13 Fox, and later to Auburn police, the student detailed that in 2008 this teacher allegedly made advances toward him and exposed himself when giving him a ride to the grocery store up the hill from the school.

Criminal Investigations

Auburn police reviewed the former cases filed against the teacher and will not be reopening them.  An investigation into the new allegations has been started.  “The statute of limitation laws are a little complicated,” explained Auburn police Commander Mike Hirman.  “How old was the [victim], what happened, was it a gross misdemeanor, was it a felony, when was it reported?  All those things come into play.  We’re going to gather all the information we have, interview who we need to interview and then send that information to the prosecutor for them to make a determination.”

At this time Auburn police have not yet interviewed the teacher.  Wanting to give any potential victims a chance to come forward, the Auburn police have not yet spoken to the teacher.  Hirman clarified that Auburn police have no expectations of further allegations but want to ensure all information is gathered prior to interviewing the teacher.

Learn More: Here’s an article we did that delves into how police investigate sexual assault cases.  And here’s how sexual assault cases are prosecuted.

Houston’s Investigation

The video turned in to the Auburn School District originated from a Texas-based vigilante group called “Predator Poachers.”  The incident allegedly involving the ARHS teacher occurred in Houston, in July.  Because of this, Houston police have jurisdiction over any investigation into the incident.

The video posted by the group shows a series of text exchanges purportedly between the staff member and a supposed 14-year-old male.  The exchanges include inappropriate messages and graphic photographs.  During the messaging, a meeting was set up at a Walmart, with the expectation of a sexual encounter in the bathroom.

Houston police have confirmed that they have no investigation related to this incident.  Hirman explained that investigating, and further prosecuting, incidents related to vigilante groups can be very difficult.  Some of the issues that cause law enforcement departments to not investigate cases that stem from vigilante groups relate to the chain of evidence, the situation being entrapment and that groups may not turn over all information or records related to a case.

Auburn School District Investigation

Independent from criminal investigations is the Auburn School District investigation.  Some of the things the school district will use to guide their investigation are the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) Code of Professional Conduct, and the contract negotiated by the Auburn Education Association (AEA) and the Auburn School District.

The AEA 2018-2020 teachers’ contract states “employees are entitled to the full legal rights afforded under federal law, state law in the U.S. and Washington State Constitution. The religious or political activities of the Employee and the private and personal life of the Employee will not be grounds for disciplinary action unless the District can show just and sufficient cause that such activities or the Employee’s private or personal life adversely impacts the performance of assigned duties.”

ASD, corrective action map, auburn wa, auburn school district corrective action map
Courtesy ASD
Points, or questions, considered during the Auburn School District investigation are:   
    1. A Reasonable Rule, Order or Expectation: Is the employer’s rule, order or expectation reasonably related to the orderly, efficient and safe operation of the business?
    2. Notice: Did the employee have notice of the rule, order or expectation? Did the employee know the possible consequences that could result from the employee’s action or behavior?
    3. Investigation: Before issuing discipline, did the employer conduct an investigation to determine whether the employee did in fact violate or disobey a rule or order.
    4. Fair Investigation: Was the investigation fair and objective?
    5. Proof: Did the investigation uncover any substantial proof or evidence that the employee was guilty of violating or disobeying a rule or order?
    6. Equal Treatment: Was the rule, order or penalty applied even-handedly to other employees in similar situations?
    7. Penalty: Did the penalty fit the crime? Was the level of discipline reasonably related to either the seriousness of the employee’s offense or to the record of past service?
      Provided by the Auburn School District

Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction
According to the OSPI Code of Conduct, “the Office of Professional Practices, a division under the auspices of the [OSPI], is charged with enforcement, including the discipline of educational practitioners for violation of the Professional Code of Conduct. The office receives, investigates, and makes legal findings regarding complaints.”

The OSPI Office of Professional Practices “also reviews charges that an applicant for or the holder of professional certification lacks good moral character or personal fitness.”  The standards in which the Office of Professional Practices relies on are laid out in WAC 181-86-013.

Choose Your Words Carefully

We ask that those commenting (wherever those comments may be made) take a moment to consider your words.  We have seen the very intense reactions to the allegations made, present and past, related to this teacher.  And we get it.  However, we ask that you consider the effect your words and posts may have on students (past and present) that are processing this situation.

Sexual Assault Survivors are 13 times more likely than non-crime victims to attempt suicide

Additionally, while an investigation is pending in this matter, commentary related to abuse, sexual assault, rape and matters of this kind can leave an astoundingly deep impact.  Survivors of abuse and assault are also reading these comments.  Mental health is not cut and dry – words can cause a great deal of trauma to those who are already wounded.

Resources

If you or anyone you know needs help, please know support is out there.  Here are a few numbers to local and national resources:

King County Sexual Assault Resource Center: 888-99-VOICE
Rebuilding Hope! Sexual Assault Center Pierce County: 1-800-756-7273
King County Crisis Connections: 866-427-4747
Pierce County Crisis Line: 800-576-7764
RAINN: 1-800-656-4673
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
Crisis Text Line: Text Home 741741

Last Updated 12/20/2019 10:09am: This article last updated to update police report redactions to remove personal information of ASD staff.

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