A Billings elementary teacher was disciplined after she allowed a man previously convicted of kidnapping to repeatedly visit her classroom last school year. The situation escalated to the point that a district-wide no trespass order was issued against the man.
Timothy John Keil and another man were arrested in 2012 on accusations that they abducted another man who owed them drug money, bound him, beat him and shaved an X into his head. The victim told police that Keil and his accomplice threatened to hurt his family and rape his girlfriend in front of him.
Keil was convicted of kidnapping by accountability and intimidation by accountability and ordered to serve a five-year suspended sentence and a six-month deferred sentence for possessing drug paraphernalia. The Billings Gazette was unable to find a working phone number to contact Keil for comment.
The Poly Drive Elementary issue came to light after a parent complained about the situation to the school board in May.
An earlier written complaint submitted to the district was signed by 19 parents. A subsequent district investigation interviewed 22 people including administrators, teachers and parents.
"Nine of 23 parents with children in Ms. Robinson's class interviewed did not feel their child was in danger as a result of Mr. Keil's presence in the classroom," a report about the investigation said, citing a 10th parent who pushed the issue. It said that nine of the parents who signed "the complaint" did not have a child in Robinson's class.
But it found that the fourth-grade teacher, Tawna Robinson, displayed "poor judgement" in allowing Keil in her classroom.
"Ms. Robinson allowed a known convicted violent offender to befriend students and to gain their trust," wrote the district's investigator, Michelle Smith, in her report. "It is reasonable for parents to be apprehensive about the possibility of an interaction occurring between Mr. Keil and their child outside of school based on the established friendship."
The discipline imposed is redacted in documents obtained through a public records request, but a letter from a district lawyer shows that Upham inquired about the legality of a letter of reprimand and three days unpaid leave.
On district policy grounds, the investigation found fault for not requiring a background check for volunteers and for not requiring Keil to sign in.
Billings schools do not have a blanket policy against allowing those with criminal backgrounds in schools, in part because it could potentially bar students' parents. A district lawyer recommended that trustees review policies about access to school buildings.
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The local teachers union raised concerns about some of the report's conclusions, as shown in a letter from district superintendent Greg Upham to Billings Education Association president Rachel Schillreff.
She argued that though Robinson knew Keil wouldn't pass a background check, she didn't consider him a volunteer, only an occasional visitor, nor did the teacher purposely help Keil avoid signing in at school. She also argued that there was no evidence that Robinson caused an argument between Keil and Poly Drive principal Lorrie Wolverton that took place on school grounds, and that some incidents were personal rather than professional in scope.
According to the investigation, Robinson allowed Keil on campus more than 30 times during the 2018-2019 school year. In November, Wolverton told Robinson that she had been informed of Keil's criminal background, and that he would need a background check. Robinson told her that he would no longer be in the classroom, but Keil came to her classroom during her preparation period Dec. 3.
After "district administrators" again told Robinson that Keil couldn't be on campus, there were no reports of him at Poly Drive until April 16. However, the investigation cites a pair of off-campus interactions involving students or parents.
On April 16, Keil confronted Wolverton outside the school, the investigation says.
"He was angry with Ms. Wolverton for judging him for a past mistake and for unfairly targeting Ms. Robinson. Two hours prior to the incident, Ms. Robinson texted a staff member expressing her anger toward Principal Wolverton and stated she was being unfairly targeted."
A school resource officer issued a district-wide no-trespass order for Keil the next day, and Poly Drive staffers were told to call 911 if they saw him on campus.
The investigation also addressed a pair of other claims from a parent about a student purchasing a small knife on a field trip and suffering an unrelated playground injury. It found that Robinson shouldn't have let the student buy a knife, but that she handled the student's injury appropriately.
Attempts to reach Robinson Friday were unsuccessful.
Robinson was a Golden Apple Award recipient in 2009.