SD2 wants state to decertify accused teacher

2008-06-26T23:00:00Z SD2 wants state to decertify accused teacherDIANE COCHRAN Of The Gazette Staff The Billings Gazette
June 26, 2008 11:00 pm  • 

A Senior High teacher accused of having a sexual relationship with a ninth-grade girl should lose his license and be barred from teaching anywhere in the country.

That's the conclusion of Billings School District 2 Superintendent Jack Copps, who on Thursday released the results of an investigation into business and technology teacher Stacey Rambold.

"This is repugnant," Copps said. "It's grievous. This deeply saddens me."

Rambold has been on paid leave since April, when allegations were made that he had a monthslong sexual relationship with a 14-year-old freshman. The girl has since turned 15.

The investigation, conducted by an outside party, determined that it is "more likely than not" that Rambold and the girl engaged in oral sex multiple times during the 2007-08 school year.

That's enough to warrant a license revocation, Copps said. A criminal investigation by the Billings Police Department into Rambold's behavior is ongoing, said Sgt. Kevin Iffland.

In what he called an unprecedented step, Copps will ask trustees during a special school board meeting Monday night to forward the matter to the Montana Board of Public Education.

Copps wants trustees to ask that body to revoke Rambold's license, which would prevent him from teaching in Montana or any other state.

There is no greater violation of a teacher's trusted public position than sexual contact with a student, he said.

"It's a breach of the trust we're given by families in this community," Copps said.

It is unusual for a school district to take a complaint against a teacher directly to the Montana Board of Public Education, said Kathleen Magone, the chief legal counsel for the state Office of Public Instruction.

"In my experience, school boards tend not to report something until they've taken action, but they certainly can report something without taking action," Magone said.

It can take as long as a year for the state to act on such complaints.

Copps said SD2 would start the process of firing Rambold if the state does not act immediately.

According to the internal investigation, Rambold began flirting with the student, described in the report as "high-risk," at the beginning of the school year. She was in one of his classes.

Rambold was apparently 48 years old at the time. He refused to participate in the investigation and could not be reached for comment.

The girl told the investigator, "I got special treatment from Mr. Rambold right away, early in September. I could see he wanted me. He looked at me in special way. I just knew."

The investigator determined that Rambold took the girl out of other classes, including a study hall and a class taught by a student teacher, so they could have sex.

Interviews with the girl, other students, teachers and a custodian led the investigator to believe that the sexual contact took place in Rambold's classroom, his pickup truck and his home.

Other teachers weren't suspicious when Rambold removed the student from their classes because the girl belonged to a student group, Business Professionals of America, that Rambold advised. It is not uncommon for teachers to ask students who participate in such groups to spend their study halls working on group projects.

After they began engaging in oral sex, Rambold and the student discussed what would happen if they were found out, according to the report.

"We made jokes about getting caught," the girl told the investigator. "We agreed that we would deny it, deny it all. That was the plan."

Rambold did deny it. The girl didn't, but she tried to protect him.

The investigative report includes a copy of a handwritten note she gave Rambold that urges him to "say I liked you, I put the makes on you, you rejected me and now I'm making you pay."

"Personally, I think it would be in your best interest to deny it all, call me a liar," she wrote. "The last thing I want to see is you in prison 4 the next 5-10 years."

The note, which also references Rambold's performing oral sex on the girl, ends with this postscript: "Throw away this note! Don't lose it!"

Allegations against Rambold surfaced in late April after the student apparently told a counselor at a church group that she'd had "an affair" with a teacher. The counselor told a pastor, who called the girl's parents. Her parents called the police.

The student - described by teachers as tough, smart, energetic and bubbly - told the investigator she was not a victim.

But at least one teacher said the girl began acting like a victim of rape sometime in February. She started missing classes and stopped brushing her hair. The relationship with Rambold apparently ended in late January.

A friend of the student told the investigator that the girl seemed to enjoy Rambold's attention.

After Rambold was placed on leave, the girl apparently told a school clerk, "I need someone to love me."

Her friend didn't tell anyone about the relationship because she didn't want to violate the girl's trust and she thought the girl could handle the situation.

"(She) was looking for a thrill - tease a teacher," the friend said. "It's good for your ego if they play back. (The girl) and I are insecure about our bodies. We are careful what we wear. He would always look at her like he wanted her. It was ego flattering both ways."

This is not the first time a student has complained about Rambold, who began teaching in SD2 in 2004. He worked in Billings in the private sector for almost a decade before taking the teaching job, and he taught in Florida in the 1990s.

The Florida Department of Education said Thursday that there was no record of any complaints about or investigations into Rambold, whose license there expired in 1998.

In Billings, Rambold was reprimanded in 2004 after students complained that he put his hand on a girl's thigh, touched a girl's waist and went into the girls' locker room after basketball game without announcing his presence. He was not allowed to coach girls sports after that.

Another complaint came from an 18-year-old female student who went on a BPA trip with Rambold and reported that he opened his hotel-room door wearing only a towel.

After that, school officials began requiring a female chaperone on all BPA trips.

When Rambold was placed on leave in April, he acted surprised but did not ask which student had accused him, according to the investigative report.

"I love what I do," Rambold told Copps at the time. "I would not do anything to jeopardize this."

Contact Diane Cochran at dcochran@billingsgazette.com or 657-1287.

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