Relationship with student ends teacher’s term in Salem

SALEM – The Salem school board met in special session Friday and accepted the resignation of a high school teacher investigated for an alleged inappropriate relationship with a 17-year-old female student.

Brian D’Angelo, 42, of Poland, taught social studies and had done some coaching for the district since being hired in 2003, but has been off on paid administrative leave since March 20, the day some of the girl’s fellow students reported their suspicions to school staff.

Children Services was contacted and the Salem Police Department took over the investigation almost immediately. During the course of the investigation, biological evidence linked D’Angelo to the girl’s bedroom, Salem Police Detective Dave Talbert said.

No criminal charges have been filed, however, and the case is now closed, due to the girl’s refusal to disclose any criminal conduct by the teacher, he explained. Talbert indicated if new information came to light, they could reopen the case.

With the police investigation done, the school district moved forward with its investigation and requested copies of what the police had, including interviews, DNA test results and phone records.

The board’s attorney, Helen Carroll, of Roetzel & Andress in Akron, said D’Angelo was notified of a statutory meeting that was to be held this past Monday with Superintendent Tom Bratten to give him an opportunity to respond to the allegations. His attorney notified her that he was resigning.

After the school board accepted D’Angelo’s resignation, effective Aug. 18, Bratten made a statement at the meeting, noting that the former teacher’s personnel file and the investigative file related to the allegations will be sent to the Ohio Department of Education Office for Professional Conduct, as required by law.

The office investigates allegations of criminal or ethical wrongdoing by educators and has the power to dole out discipline, such as suspension or revocation of a teaching license. One of the eight principles teachers are expected to follow, according to the licensure code, says “Educators shall maintain a professional relationship with all students at all times, both in and out of the classroom.”

In his investigative notes, Bratten said he’ll be cooperating with that investigation.

“Teachers hold a position of trust with our students. We expect teachers to nurture and guide our students toward independence and to model the highest level of professional conduct and praiseworthy values. In my opinion, there is no greater violation of professional standards and the trust we place in our educators than when a teacher engages a student in an improper type of relationship,” he wrote.

At the end of the meeting, he gave praise to the staff members who initially spoke to the students in March and contacted him immediately.

“I am very proud of the professional response that occurred from our staff,” Bratten said. “Our staff demonstrated by their immediate actions that we do indeed make student safety our number one priority.”

Bratten said he knows people will question why the teacher wasn’t fired and why they let him resign, but he said “at the end of the day, the results the same. He’s not here.”

As for paying him, he explained that they had to do that because he had not received a disciplinary hearing since the police had seized all the information and documentation the school had from initial interviews. The immediate suspension was necessary to protect the students, he said.

According to a settlement agreement signed by both Bratten and D’Angelo on Wednesday, he’ll be paid for all compensation earned for the 2012-2013 school year and retain his health insurance benefits through Aug. 31. He also released the school board from any claims or suits at law of any kind resulting from his employment with the school based on facts or events which occurred before the agreement was signed.

“Nothing contained herein will constitute an admission of fault or liability of any kind by any party,” the agreement said.

Attached to the agreement was a one-sentence resignation in writing by D’Angelo citing personal reasons.

A message requesting comment was left for D’Angelo with a woman who answered the phone at his residence, but no call was returned. A message was also left for his attorney, Stanley Okusewski, with no call returned.

Bratten said his position will be filled early next week. Since his suspension, a substitute has been covering his classes, costing the district $70 a day. He estimated the total cost to the district for the substitute at more than $3,000.

He said he hoped people realized the spirit of cooperation that exists between the school district and the police department. He also spoke about the students who came forward, saying “I couldn’t be prouder of their sense of moral obligation to do what was right.”

Bratten’s investigative notes detailed the steps taken from the beginning, including the conversation with D’Angelo telling him the allegations known at that point on March 20, that he was immediately placed on administrative leave, that he had to stay off of board property and to have no contact with any student. He also received written notice.

The report noted that on March 21, he learned that D’Angelo had contacted the parent of the girl, leading Bratten to tell him he was to have no contact with anyone related to the case, including both the parents and students. The report said D’Angelo repeatedly violated that directive by contacting the student and parents, which Bratten termed as “willful insubordination.”

On March 25, Bratten learned the police had already been looking into allegations related to the student and teacher dating back to December. A hearing the school had set up for March 26 was then canceled in light of the new information, with the police investigating from then on.