Former Rocky River teacher breaks silence on teen photo investigation


ROCKY RIVER, Ohio (WJW) – A local teacher just opened up to the FOX 8 I-Team, breaking his silence about a classroom video and questions about an explicit picture of a female student.

Joe Toner spoke out to clear his name and reveal a side of this story never heard.

In March, a camera captured Toner and another teacher at Rocky River High School in a private conversation. They talked about the possibility of a third teacher having taken an explicit picture of a female student and sending it around with his phone.

We asked Toner directly if anyone actually had a picture like that.

”No, no. We would never do that,” he said. “I was guilty before I even had a chance to say anything.”

On the video, you hear Toner and the other teacher say, “I’m thinking, ‘Is he taking pictures of her in class?’” and “I mean, it’s illegal. Not only, unethical, it’s illegal.”

They also say, “It’d be a terrible way to end our career.”

Toner told us, “In general, if you saw the video, I am deeply anguished about what to do.”

He believes school administrators never fully gave him a chance to explain.

“In fact, I’ve gotten more justice just from talking to you than I’ve ever gotten from the administration because nobody ever sat down and asked me my story,” he said.

Toner taught English and honors courses for 18 years at Rocky River. He says trouble began when a teacher walked by him in a hallway and said something about a picture.

So, he then had a chat with another teacher, but it ended up recorded on a classroom camera.

“He said something to me and I didn’t quite understand because there was 900 kids. The next school day, I asked another teacher, ‘Know anything about a picture?’” Toner said.

In the video, the teacher talking to Toner said, “He sent me pictures of some girl. Thank God I have him blocked. He said she’s smoking hot, best in the school.”

That other teacher in the video also said, “It’s not on my phone. I double-checked to make sure there was nothing on my phone.”

A parent discovered that video. Then, the school district put Toner and five other teachers on leave.

Toner says the superintendent never gave him a chance to explain.

Toner looked back, telling us, “I said, ‘Mick, I want my job back’ and he leaned forward and he wagged his finger and said, ‘You will never teach in this school district again’ and those nine words were tattooed on my soul.”

So, we asked why the teachers with questions didn’t just go directly to school administrators.

“Certainly if we had seen some sort of photo, something, we would have rushed down there, but we saw nothing. So, you can’t make an accusation like that,” Toner said.

Rocky River Police investigated. They never did a full electronic search of any phones. They said they reviewed text messages between teachers and they never found an explicit photo of a student, so police never filed any charges.

The I-Team went to see the Rocky River School District Superintendent Dr. Michael Shoaf, who told us he did listen to the teachers.

“We obviously, as an organization, followed the protocols that are in our contract,” Shoaf said.

The superintendent also said the district did uncover a picture he calls “inappropriate” on a teacher’s phone. Dr. Shoaf described it as a picture of a student fully clothed, but one that should not have been taken.

The district also found that teacher text messages included a dirty photo of a TV star that had been doctored online, as well as comments ridiculing school staff members and bosses.

“I think, anytime there’s information about the safety of a student or misconduct by any of our staff, that should be reported immediately… That’s a requirement of the Ohio Department of Education,” the superintendent said.

“I haven’t done anything wrong,” Toner said.

Toner and five other teachers resigned or retired. He says he decided a long fight wasn’t worth it, but after all that’s happened, he now has trouble getting local substitute teaching jobs.

He says he finds strength in his religious faith.

As this unfolded, many parents had hard questions and some wanted the teachers immediately fired. Toner says parents never had a reason to be worried.

“Your kids deserve the very, very best and there was never a moment when your kids were in any kind of danger from any of us because we adored your kids,” Toner said.

Months after this all started, Rocky River Police have not yet closed their investigation.

The superintendent says the Ohio Department of Education is still looking into the matter.

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