Teacher investigation should also focus on how situation was handled

A lot of questions surround the suspension and the “resignation with prejudice” of a teacher at Sebring’s Hill-Gustat Middle School. An investigation is underway and charges have been filed against the teacher through the state attorney’s office. The district should also do an investigation on how this matter was handled. Kenneth Koehler, 34, taught at the school and was suspended without pay after he allegedly kissed and “engaged in unprofessional or inappropriate or lewd conduct with a child,” as the state attorney stated in a document. The female child was one of Koehler’s students and other teachers had complained that their relationship appeared suspicious. This activity supposedly happened between Dec. 1, 2012 and Feb. 14. Koehler was suspended without pay on March 19 and resigned with prejudice on April 8, according to the district. The state Education Practices Commission is investigating it, even though Koehler resigned. According to documents, the girl was removed from Koehler’s class while he was being investigated. The question we have is why wasn’t Koehler removed from teaching once it became clear that a formal investigation was necessary? Was it fair to pull the girl out of her class because of the alleged actions of her teacher?
These are sensitive matters, of course, and Koehler is innocent until proven guilty. But in cases where other teachers were concerned about the nature of this relationship, as well as other compelling information, we believe it’s in everyone’s best – even the teacher’s - interest if a teacher is removed from the situation. We don’t want teachers falsely accused of a crime but we also must weigh the seriousness of the potential outcome and keep children’s safety the priority. And why weren’t parents warned since this might not have been an isolated instance? It’s our guess that other parents who had children in that classroom would want to know what’s going on with their children’s teacher. Keeping the information quiet is the worst thing that can be done. It gives an appearance that someone - or the district itself - was trying to hide this information. Perhaps that’s not the case, but for a lot of people, that’s how it looks. The investigation must look at all facets of this situation. Is Koehler guilt of the charges brought against him and was this handled properly?

Koehler deserves the opportunity to prove his innocence, and the students and parents in our district deserve to know that when situations like this occur, the district will put the alleged victim’s safety first and foremost.

Perhaps it did, but it’s worth reassuring everyone – teachers, parents and students - that it was indeed the case in this instance.