November 25, 2014

Elyria
Cloudy
30°F
test

Columbia teacher resigns in wake of charges

COLUMBIA TWP. — The Columbia school board voted 3-0 Friday to accept the immediate resignation of fifth-grade science teacher Michelle Kazmierczak from her $65,886 a year job.

Kazmierczak, who is charged with disseminating material harmful to juveniles, did not attend the emergency meeting Friday afternoon. She declined to comment when reached by phone.

She is accused of sending topless photos of herself to the eighth-grade son of Tyrone Price, who is accused of blackmailing her to keep the photos secret from her husband and police.

Kazmierczak contacted Lorain County Sheriff’s deputies in an effort to put a stop to the blackmail and is cooperating with the investigation into Price, who is in a diversion program for stealing from the Amherst Youth Football Association.

Price’s son, who was dating Kazmierczak’s daughter at the time, attended a different school district.

Superintendent Graig Bansek declined to comment on the criminal charges except to say no students from Columbia Schools were involved. A certified substitute teacher will finish teaching Kazmierczak’s classes for the year.

Her personnel file shows mostly “proficient” or “distinguished” ratings during evaluations. In 1992, she was a recipient of the “In Pursuit of Excellence” award presented to staff members upon the recommendation of their colleagues.

Bansek said he has spoken with Kazmierczak about the criminal charges and “she feels absolutely horrible.” She had been suspended with pay on Monday after the allegations came to light.

“She was well liked by her students,” said Bansek, who called her “a very effective and excellent teacher.”

Nonetheless, Bansek said all teachers are required to comply with a code of conduct set in 2008 that states that educators “behave in a professional manner, realizing that one’s actions reflect directly on the status and substance of the profession.”

“As a school we are held to a high standard, and it’s my job to hold to those standards and make sure the community is protected,” Bansek said. “This is why we have moved very, very quickly to resolve this matter.”

Kazmierczak, 46, could get up to six months in jail if convicted of the misdemeanor charge. She is due in Elyria Municipal Court next week.

Bansek said Kazmierczak did not notify school officials of the investigation and the first time he heard about it was when a Chronicle-Telegram reporter called him last week and provided him with a copy of a police report.

State law stipulates that the state Board of Education may suspend, revoke or limit a teacher’s license for felonies and misdemeanors of a sexual nature.

Her resignation is likely to spark an investigation into her professional license by the state Board of Education because a school district is mandated to report if an educator resigns through the course of an investigation.

Patrick Gallaway, spokesman for the Ohio Board of Education, would neither confirm nor deny the existence of an investigation, saying such investigations are confidential.

Gallaway, speaking in general, said the most serious decision regarding licensure that could be handed down by the state Board of Education is revocation and permanent denial of a teaching license.

Most sexual offenses, regardless of whether they are felonies or misdemeanors, are deemed an “absolute bar” offense under Ohio law and the state board can automatically revoke or deny a person’s license, according to Gallaway.

If the individual pleads to a lesser criminal offense or the sex offense is not deemed an “absolute bar” offense, the state board still can initiate a disciplinary action to revoke or deny a license, he said.

The state board would then vote on the case and the outcome would be determined by a majority vote. Typically, these types of situations result in a permanent revocation/denial of a person’s license, according to Gallaway.

Meanwhile, Tyrone Price, the man who allegedly tried to blackmail Kazmierczak, was indicted last week on two counts of extortion.

Price’s attorney, Mike Duff, has denied his client was trying to extort the teacher. He accused Kazmierczak of making up the allegation in an effort to get herself out of trouble.

Sheriff’s deputies have said that the boy, who Duff said was in eighth grade at the time the photos were sent, made comments to Kazmierczak comparing her to her daughter. That prompted the teacher to forward first photos of herself in a bra and later of herself topless to the boy.

Detective Mike Lopez said last week that Price, who was under investigation by Amherst police for embezzling money from the Amherst Youth Football Association when the blackmail allegedly occurred, found the photos and began trying to extort Kazmierczak via phone calls and text messages.

Price allegedly demanded an Xbox and, when Kazmierczak said she couldn’t do that because her husband would find out, cash. At one point he demanded she sell her wedding ring or claim to lose the stone and get an insurance payout to give to him, Lopez has said.

Kazmierczak eventually contacted deputies about the extortion and her attorney, Kenneth Lieux, said last week that she was cooperating with the investigation. Lieux said his client was a victim in the case.

Price, 38, was placed in a court-run diversion program over the objections of prosecutors last month. He had pleaded guilty to theft and misuse of credit cards, but those charges would be dropped if he successfully completed the program.

He also had to repay $23,556 he stole from the football league that he served as president of between 2006 and his resignation in May 2010. Duff contends that Price was a sloppy bookkeeper and never intended to steal any money.

Contact Cindy Leise at 329-7147 or cleise@chroniclet.com.