Ogden teacher resigns after sending 'inappropriate' messages to student

Apr 15 2014 - 4:47am

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OGDEN -- When an Ogden mother happened upon her junior high son's logged in Facebook account, she saw something that struck her as more than just a simple private message between teenagers.

"It made me sick. I was glad I found [the messages] then," said the mother, who asked not to be identified out of privacy concerns for her son.

She doesn't know if the causal late night discussions could have turned physical, but she wasn't taking any chances.

She brought the complaint straight to Ogden School District Superintendent Brad Smith alleging the teacher's inappropriate behavior with her son went beyond school hours and into the world of Facebook.

"I believe you can look at this material and say there are some problems with it," Smith said, however noting that "there's nothing sexual in the discussion" between the student and teacher.

That's where the mother became frustrated because she says the teacher was allowed to resign and her license wasn't taken away, because the situation didn't turn into a criminal matter.

However, On Feb. 10, the teacher, who is not being identified since no criminal charges have been filed against her, was removed from her classroom by the superintendent and put on paid administrative leave pending an investigation. By April 2 the 27-year-old female teacher at Highland Junior High was no longer employed with the Ogden School District.

Dialogue in the messenger shows banter and gossip more akin to two teens venting about their lives than a conversation between a concerned teacher and a student. 

Most alarming to the parent was when she saw the 27-year-old Highland Junior High teacher progressively "groom" the then 13-year-old teen by flattery.

"You are so special, you are just the sort of person that people want to be around, you know?" read one comment the teacher posted to the student, which was provided to the Standard-Examiner by the parent. 

"I feel like I want to be around you lots," read another message where she disclosed she wasn't supposed to have "favorites" but he was her favorite.

Most of the conversation and content was instigated by the teacher after school hours or very late at night.

"It was totally inappropriate," the parent says. "I think she is an absolute idiot."

The messages included foul language laced with disparaging comments about the school's principal, the district as a whole, other teachers and even other students.

The teacher even indicated to the boy that she knew her conduct could get her fired.

In one message she told the teen, "You shouldn't repeat that. Actually, all of this could get me fired. You could blackmail me so much!" He said he wouldn't and she responded. "I still shouldn't tell you this stuff. Oh well!"

In one message the teacher talks about personnel matters of another student who disrespected her and called her "a stupid (expletive)" in front of her whole class. 

"He thinks he's so smart and tough, but he's just a mean-spirited smart-ass," she told the boy.

The parent says "you don't talk to a child like that, ever."

Smith said he believes the district appropriately handled the situation.

"If a parent brings a credible allegation to us, we will react to it immediately," Smith told the Standard-Examiner Monday. "In this case, there is no question in my mind that we took immediate action to protect the students."

Smith said in order to protect the privacy of the student involved, at the request of the parent, the students were not told why a substitute had replaced their teacher. That didn't stop rumors about the reason for the teacher's departure.

The parent says in February the teacher was told by the district not to have any contact with anyone associated with the situation, especially the boy.

In March the teacher, still on paid leave, happened to meet up with the boy in Provo where he was visiting his father. The teacher confronted the student nearby a recreation center and told him her mom is the one that took screenshot messages to the district and that's why she is no longer at work. She also unfriended all her students on Facebook and limited other social media ties with other teens. She told him not to tell anyone they talked.

The parent isn't saying by any means that her son is perfect, but she didn't expect a teacher in a position of authority over her son to be instigating and fostering inappropriate behavior.

"I'm teaching [my son different behavior] and she is saying all this is OK," the mother said.

In one message, the teen tells the teacher his mom says he has too much attitude and the teacher responds, "You're a teenager. You're allowed to have lots of attitude. And I like it, which is why I teach junior high."

Justice for the parent would be seeing the license taken away from the teacher. She says the district failed her and her son by allowing her to resign and be allowed to get a job somewhere else. 

The district doesn't see it that way. Smith said they forwarded all of their investigation to the Utah State Office of Education's Utah Professional Practices Advisory Commission. It is up to them to handle any further discipline.

Smith said it can take up to 18 months for UPPAC to come to a decision and at least six weeks before even acknowledging the case, because of its volume.

"We live in a society that believes people are not held accountable unless the maximum possible penalty is always carried out," says Smith, a former Box Elder County prosecutor who has handled death penalty criminal cases. 

The mother says the district did more to protect the teacher by allowing her to just walk away.

"My son wasn't protected, and she was. And he's the minor," she said.

"I don't believe a punishment has to be severe to serve its purpose, it only has to be certain," Smith said. "Does this person deserve the employment equivalent of the death penalty?"

The teacher could not be reached for comment.

Contact reporter Cimaron Neugebauer 801-625-4231 or cimaron@standard.net Follow him on Twitter at @CimaronNews

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