Teacher-student sex scandal: The story so far

Get up to speed on what we know, and what officials won't tell

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CEDAR RAPIDS — Two longtime Washington High School administrators, Principal Ralph Plagman and Associate Principal Michael Johnson, have been ousted from the school, a substitute teacher is facing a sexual exploitation charge for what police say was a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old student and Cedar Rapids school district officials are no longer answering questions as they investigate.

How did we get here? Here’s an overview of what we know — and what we don’t:


Mary Beth Haglin, 24, and a male Washington High student, 17, begin a sexual relationship, she says, before she is placed at the school as a substitute teacher. She is listed as a sub on a database maintained by the Grant Wood Area Education Agency that several districts use to hire subs, and is primarily teaching at Prairie Point Middle School in the College Community district.


Haglin is hired as a long-term sub at Washington High. Her first day, according to Grant Wood AEA records, is Jan. 21. She continues her relationship with the student while working there, she says. While he is not a student in her classes, Haglin says the two have “a lot of sexual contact” at school but never have sex at school.


Washington High administrators investigate rumors of a sexual relationship between Haglin and a student, according to district officials. On Feb. 3, it’s announced that Associate Principal Michael Johnson will become Washington’s Athletic Director starting in the 2016-2017 school year.

Who conducted that investigation? District officials have declined to name those involved, but Haglin says Plagman and Johnson were the administrators who conducted the investigation. In an Aug. 2 letter, Plagman takes responsibility for it, saying he did his “best to perform a prompt and thorough investigation” when he “first suspected inappropriate conduct in February.”

Who knew about the investigation? Superintendent Brad Buck said he was not made aware of it or of Haglin’s suspected conduct at this time.

How was the initial investigation carried out? It lasted one day, Buck said, as administrators reviewed social media and interviewed the student and others. Haglin has said she denied the allegations when interviewed. No report from the investigation exists, according to district officials.

Was Plagman, Johnson or any Washington High administrator qualified to conduct the investigation? District policy suggests the investigation should have fallen under Regulation 506.6, which defines any employee’s inappropriate sexual behavior toward a student as “abuse of students by district employees.” Such an investigation is to be handled by an in-district, board-approved investigator who receives training at least every five years. No administrators at Washington High is one of those investigators or have received such training in at least 10 years, according to training records.

If administrators had contacted the district’s designated investigators, were their qualifications up to date? No. Training records show the district’s designated investigators were all at least three overdue for recertification, a breach of Iowa law. In February, those investigators were Wright Elementary Principal Greg O’Connell, Prekindergarten-through-eighth-grade Executive Director Val Dolezal and Human Resources Director Jill Cirivello.


A video is posted online of Haglin and the student together on a Sunday afternoon, reigniting rumors of an inappropriate relationship, Haglin has said.


Plagman and other Washington High administrators conduct a second investigation and ask Haglin to leave the school May 17.

What did administrators find this time? In a letter to the Board of Educational Examiners, Buck wrote the district reviewed Haglin’s emails and found a message referencing the video. When administrators again confronted Haglin, she continued to deny the relationship but was asked to leave. District officials have not answered questions about documentation of this investigation.

What did the district do after Haglin was removed? Buck sent a letter to the Board of Educational Examiners reporting Haglin for an ethical violation. That letter is dated May 26 and was received on June 6.

When did police become involved? No one in the district contacted police, Buck said. Plagman said that was a decision made by Cirivello. Someone else did contact Cedar Rapids police, however, and they opened an investigation on May 30.

What happened to Haglin after her removal? She continued teaching in Linn-Mar’s Oak Ridge Middle, Cedar Rapids’ Harrison Elementary and College Community’s Prairie Creek Intermediate schools. She was able to do so because her name was not immediately removed from the substitute teacher database. District officials have said it was Cirivello’s responsibility to inform the AEA to remove Haglin from the database. An AEA spokeswoman said that information was not received until June 14.


Cirivello, 56, retires June 30.


Haglin is arrestedJuly 22 on a charge of sexual exploitation by a counselor, therapist or school employee. After her release on bail, Haglin asserts in media interviews that Washington High officials attempted to “cover up” her conduct.

How did the school district react?In a July 27 email, district spokeswoman Marcia Hughes said the district was opening a formal investigation into “these concerns and our internal processes, procedures and communication.”


On Aug. 2, Plagman announces his retirement in an email. In his letter, he says he had planned to continue on but that the district “has asked me to step down from this position, and I have agreed to do so.”

In an Aug. 3 interview, he denies Haglin’s assertion that administrators tried to cover it up: “Protecting the school reputation is a total non-factor in investigating students’ welfare,” he says.

A week later, district officials announce Associate Principal Johnson is also resigning.

Who asked Plagman to leave? Plagman and district officials have declined to name names, though school board President John Laverty has said the school board did not ask for Plagman’s resignation.

Why did Johnson leave? According to a district statement, the ongoing district investigation into the situation at Washington High revealed information that led Johnson and the district to reach “an agreement in which Mr. Johnson will retire and not return for the 2016-2017 school year.”

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