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ROCKY RIVER

Parents and community members expressed outrage on social media last week when word spread of two Rocky River High School teachers suspended after they were accused of talking about a student “in an inappropriate manner” at the end of a recorded Zoom class.

A joint investigation was launched by the Rocky River school officials and the Rocky River police after a student’s mother alerted them on March 10 to a conversation she said she overheard on Zoom. The class and the discussion afterward was recorded and posted to the district’s Google Classroom. A student discovered the conversation and alerted their parents. Soon after, high school officials received a flash drive containing the video and they called police, according to the report.

As of Monday, no charges had been filed.

A police report filed at 5 p.m. March 10 stated that two male teachers were on a video having a conversation about a female student. The teachers also discussed inappropriate photos they possessed and mentioned a third teacher who had pictures also, according to the report.

Superintendent Michael Shoaf and Assistant Superintendent Liz Anderson addressed the issue Friday in a video message sent to parents.

“We will respect the integrity of the investigation and will provide an update to the community when the investigation is concluded,” she said.

"We are not yet certain if a crime was committed, or if this will be a matter of an internal/administrative school policy violation, neither, or both,” said Police Chief George Lichman in an email Friday. “If there is reason to believe a crime was committed, it could take some time to investigate properly."

At least two teachers have been put on administrative leave while the investigation is ongoing. It was unclear if other teachers were involved based on information from the district’s spokesman. The four-year high school has 869 students.

As of Monday, the school board had no plans to hold an emergency meeting to discuss the investigation, board President Diana Leitch said. The other four board members referred all questions to Leitch.

Leitch declined to comment beyond the district’s official statement.

While teacher’s names have been used in social media since last Thursday, West Life will not print any names until formal charges are filed by authorities.

The video sent to parents followed an email the district sent to parents Thursday.

“At the Rocky River City School District, the safety and well-being of our students is our top priority.

“We have been made aware that members of our high school staff were speaking about a student in an inappropriate manner.

“An investigation was immediately launched and the staff members who are allegedly involved have been placed on administrative leave until the conclusion of the investigation. If it is found that school policy was violated, appropriate action will be taken.

“We are committed to providing the highest quality of education for our students in an environment that is safe, secure, and free of harassment. Our students’ well-being is our top priority.”

The email prompted an explosion of outrage and rumors on Facebook about what happened and speculation on which teachers were involved. Posts made on the Community of Rocky River, Ohio, and the Community of Rocky River Open Forum pages on Facebook have garnered more than 200 reactions since Thursday. Some commenters expressed their disgust with the situation while others demanded the teachers be fired immediately.

The school district has dealt with inappropriate behavior from a teacher before. In 2017, a male substitute teacher was fired after entering a locker room while female students changed. The incident happened at the Rocky River Middle School and resulted in reports filed with the Rocky River Police Department and the State Board of Education.

In a statement given to West Life, David Opdyke, president of the Rocky River Teachers Association, expressed his support for the accused, saying:

“The Rocky River Teachers Association is aware of the allegations and is supporting our members through the investigative process. The association is making sure the district follows the due process procedural safeguards that are built into the law to protect public employees when accusations are made against them. The union will continue to protect the due process of our members and defend our members, while also advocating for the health, safety, and welfare of all students.”

Rocky River schools have ranked among the top academic districts in Ohio for several years. On May 4, Rocky River voters will decide whether to approve a 4.9-mill tax levy, which is expected to raise $5 million annually for day-to-day expenses.

Since the pandemic began last March, Zoom has provided fodder for follies and investigations. CNN Analyst Jeffery Toobin was caught performing an inappropriate act during a Zoom call with members of The New Yorker and WNYC Radio last year. In Chicago, an 18-year-old man was caught abusing a 7-year-old girl during a remote learning session. At least two killings were caught on Zoom, including a shooting in Florida and a stabbing in Long Island.

Contact this reporter at akamczyc@westlifenews.com or 216-307-6614.

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