I-Team: 6 Rocky River teachers leave jobs in middle of investigation

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ROCKY RIVER, Ohio (WJW) — The FOX 8 I-Team has learned five Rocky River High School teachers have resigned and one has retired in the midst of an investigation into discussion of a photo one teacher said he had taken of a female student and sent to other teachers.

The school district began notifying parents Wednesday morning, and the superintendent released a statement to parents, which said, in part, “The photos, taken in a classroom, were inappropriate enough to warrant concern because they violated Board Policy.(See entire statement below.)

This comes as an internal investigation and a criminal investigation have been ongoing.

Recently, the I-Team revealed the video which sparked the questions. A camera used for online learning captured two teachers discussing an explicit photo a fellow teacher said he’d taken and sent in text messages.

The two teachers recorded said they had not received the photo, yet they were discussing what they should do about what they’d been told. Should they report it? Could they get in trouble anyway even if they had not seen it?

WJW photo

The district placed six teachers on leave.

Now, we’ve learned Joe Toner has retired. And, Matt McLaughlin, Russ Schuster,  Richard Shuler, John McKenna, and Adam Moeller have submitted letters of resignation.

Superintendent Michael G. Shoaf released the following to parents:

“As we have navigated the recent weeks, we have continually stressed the importance of providing a safe, healthy, and productive learning environment for our students. Throughout this difficult time, we have been focused on keeping students safe while gathering the necessary facts needed to ensure that our response was swift, focused, and accurate.

At this time, the district is announcing that five teachers have submitted their resignations and one teacher has submitted his retirement.

Upon learning of the incident involving high school staff members inappropriately discussing a student, we acted swiftly to protect the safety and well-being of students and immediately removed these staff members from the building using proper procedures. An investigation was launched, legal counsel was involved and the Rocky River Police Department (RRPD) was notified.

During the course of our investigation of the information contained in the video relating to three high school teachers, we learned of and obtained photographs of a fully-clothed student on the phone of one of the teachers. The photos, taken in a classroom, were inappropriate enough to warrant concern because they violated Board Policy. Law enforcement and the courts have been made aware of the circumstances and the pictures.

The investigation followed all applicable legal channels and protocols. Because of the thoroughness of the investigation, we learned that along with the three staff members, two additional high school teachers were involved in an inappropriate text chain regarding staff members. The text chain between these five individuals, which was private, did not contain photographs of students. Those staff members were immediately removed from campus. Subsequently, of these five teachers, four have resigned their employment and one has retired.

Due to the publicity associated with the investigation, a former student contacted the Rocky River City School District to express concern over another member of the high school staff regarding alleged  inappropriate communication and contact which occurred in the past.  This sixth staff member was immediately removed from the building and has since resigned his employment.

In lieu of a lengthy employment termination process, the departure of these six staff members provides our school district with the swiftest route — without litigation — to provide 100-percent certainty that these individuals will not return to a Rocky River City School District classroom.

Results from the district’s investigation will be shared with the Ohio Department of Education Office of Professional Conduct who will utilize their authority to determine any further consequences – including review of licensure – through their own independent investigation. The district will also continue to cooperate with the RRPD as they continue their criminal investigation.

Let us be clear. The Rocky River City School District holds our staff to the highest professional and ethical standards and anything less than this is unacceptable and will not be tolerated.  If the safety of a student is in question, it is the professional and ethical obligation of our staff members to report that situation to the proper individuals. This expectation has been made clear to our staff members on many occasions as well as during mandatory annual trainings. Any conduct to the contrary does not reflect the culture of the dedicated educators and staff of the Rocky River City School District.

Moving forward, we continue to be committed to creating a safe environment for all students that closely adheres to the values and priorities of the Rocky River community. As a district, it is our intention to use this matter as an opportunity to reinforce the high professional and ethical behavioral expectations we have for our staff. Assistant Superintendent Elizabeth Anderson will lead a healing initiative which will ensure student safety and reinforce staff training. The Rocky River High School counseling team, the McKeon Education Group and the Diversity Center of Northeast Ohio will all be involved in this initiative.

I want to thank the community for its patience during our investigative process and once again assure you that the safety and well-being of all students throughout the district will continue to be our number one priority.”

The school board will have a special meeting on Thursday.

The following statement from Rocky River Teachers Association President David Opdycke was released Wednesday:

“The safety and well-being of the students is always the top priority of the staff of the Rocky River City School District. As president of the Rocky River Teachers Association, I am disappointed to learn of the resignations of all of the members involved in recent investigations, but grateful to them for choosing to put the community first with their decisions to step down.

To be clear, the investigations into the video that was inadvertently recorded found that there were no sexually explicit pictures of students and no grounds for criminal charges. While there were photographs of a student on one phone of a teacher, those photographs were taken in a classroom setting to evidence that the student was not wearing a mask, and the photographs were not transmitted from one teacher to another. However, due to the ongoing distraction this has all created in the Rocky River community, the two employees in the video and the employee they were discussing on camera have chosen to resign.

In the course of the investigation into the video, private communications between those three employees and two other members came to light. Again, there were no photographs of students, inappropriate or otherwise, during those private communications; however, it did contain comments about other staff members of which these members were not proud. All of the teachers are deeply remorseful. The communication, while intended for private consumption only among the adults, has only created further distractions, so the two other employees have decided to step down.

A sixth employee, who was the subject of an unrelated investigation, has also chosen to resign rather than continue to allow the Rocky River schools community to be harmed by the ongoing, unfounded rumors these situations have spurred.

After the investigation, it is clear that no students were put at risk by either the private text chain or photograph taken.  Part of the healing process for students, staff and the Rocky River residents will be letting go of the anger and panic triggered by the false narrative in the community.  Everyone needs to take a deep breath and realize that these teachers are leaving, not because of inappropriate pictures of a student passed around in a text chain, because that did not happen, but due to insensitive private communications and the media firestorm that made staying in Rocky River an untenable position.

Rocky River teachers are among some of the best in the state. They are dedicated to their students’ safety and success, and the well-being of the entire community. It is the hope of the entire RRTA that the community can now begin to move forward and once again place their trust in the exceptional educators who work with their children every day.”

Meantime, this comes as police and the Rocky River prosecutor  have asked the district for records from the internal investigation. But, last week, the district and a lawyer for the teachers filed a motion trying to block that request.

A judge gave the two sides until the end of this week to work that out.

The district also plans to send information about all of this to the Ohio Department of Education Office of Professional Conduct.

Stay with FOX 8 News and FOX8.com for more on this developing story.

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