The Oak Ridge Police Department investigated an allegation of sexual misconduct between an Oak Ridge High School teacher and a student, but the police investigation has been closed due to a lack of evidence that anything illegal occurred, according to an incident report released Monday.
But the Oak Ridge Schools investigation continues, Superintendent Bruce Borchers said.
The Oak Ridge High School teacher, who wasn’t named, was suspended from all teaching duties without pay in February pending the investigation by the Oak Ridge Police Department.
The allegation stemmed from a note that was reportedly seen by two students in a high school class, the ORPD report said. The note had these words written on it: “you are cute #smoosh,” according to students. The report said the term “smoosh” is commonly used to refer to having sex.
The teacher told investigators that he had written the note, but it was meant for a few other male students as a joke, according to a 16-page incident report released Monday. He said he had not known what “smoosh” meant. He told investigators that he thought it was “smoosh someone’s face or to punch them, but not really.”
“He had a hard time explaining this to us, and we had a hard time understanding what he was trying to say,” Oak Ridge Police Department Detective John Criswell said in the report. “When we asked him now the ‘note’ made it into the hands of his students, he stated that one of the students had written something inappropriate on their paper so he took that paper and replaced it with his.”
The students who saw the note apparently didn’t know what “smoosh” meant either, so they looked it up it in online dictionary, according to the report. The writing in question was on the back of a worksheet, and after the students called his attention to it, the teacher took the worksheet back from them, the report said.
The teacher said he did not think anything of it because, he said, “it was a joke between he and a couple other students,” Criswell wrote in the report.
The female student told investigators that she had seen the note on the teacher’s desk, where she was grading papers, but the teacher did not tell her it was for her and she did not see him write it.
Criswell said the note in question has not been located, and was likely destroyed.
He first learned of the case from the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services on January 27. The DCS referral came from an anonymous person, the report said.
Criswell and Amy Walker, investigator in the DCS Special Investigation Unit, interviewed the teacher in a voluntary interview on February 1.
Criswell said the teacher was nervous but did not show any signs of deception. He initially seemed apprehensive about taking a polygraph exam, Criswell said, and later declined to take a voluntary exam with a Tennessee Bureau of Investigation agent, saying he was very stressed out about the investigation and the hospitalization of his grandfather. A few days later, the teacher told Criswell that he was not willing to stake his career on a test that was not 100 percent accurate, the report said.
“He stated that he has done nothing wrong and does not feel that he needs to prove it,” Criswell wrote. “At this time, I have no witnesses or proof that there is anything illegal occurring between (the teacher) and (the student). It seems that there may have been some ethical lines that were crossed, but that is not for me to decide.”
The teacher and student both declined to give their cell phones to Criswell for voluntary forensic exams. The student said she was concerned about personal information on her phone being made public. The teacher said he might talk to an attorney for advice.
Criswell, with help from Anderson County District Attorney General Investigator Robert Higgs, did review social media interactions between the two.
“There were no inappropriate communications between (the student) and (the teacher) over any of the social media sites that they both used,” Criswell said.
Twitter required a search warrant, but Criswell didn’t think he had enough probable cause for a search warrant “because I have no information that anything inappropriate was shared between (the student) and (the teacher), other than the rumors.”
But he did have access to both of their Twitter accounts because they had given him their login information and permission to look through their accounts.
“I did find that they ‘follow’ each other (on Twitter), but I could find no inappropriate communication between them,” Criswell said.
There were rumors among some students that the male teacher and female student might be sexually involved or dating, or both, the report said. A few students raised concerns over the teacher, who is a member of the coaching staff, and the student, who is an athlete, seeming to spend a lot of time together. They were questioned about working out together in the high school gym, where they said there were a lot of other people around, and her spending time in his class, although she wasn’t a student or aide. Investigators questioned the two of them about them once running together, a practice that stopped after a vice principal raised concerns, and her possibly serving as a chaperone on an upcoming overseas trip with the teacher and another chaperone, after the student graduated and turned 18.
Some described the talk of a relationship between the two as a rumor, and several people interviewed in the report, including another teacher, said they had not witnessed anything inappropriate.
The teacher being questioned denied any relationship with the student, sexual or otherwise, the report said, and the student said she was not having any type of relationship with the teacher, especially not a sexual one.
Oak Ridge Today is not identifying the teacher because no charges have been filed, and so far, school officials haven’t said that he violated any school system policies.
It wasn’t immediately clear what the teacher’s future might be at ORHS. School officials had said the teacher would be paid full salary for the period of the suspension if he is vindicated or reinstated.
“Our investigation is not complete, and therefore we have no further comment at this time,” Borchers said in a Monday evening email.
The police investigation started in late January and ended in mid-March. The 16-page incident report, along with attached emails, was released on Monday in response to a public records request.
Criswell has discussed the case with District Attorney General Dave Clark and Police Chief Jim Akagi, among others.
The ORPD investigation included interviews with students, parents, the female student, the male teacher, and school administrators, counselors, and teachers. Student names are redacted in the report.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
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