Washington High teacher-student sex inquiry not conducted by trained investigators

Cedar Rapids district's designated investigators were not trained until this week

  • Photo

CEDAR RAPIDS — Neither of the two in-district investigations of a sexual relationship between a Washington High School substitute teacher and a 17-year-old student were carried out by a trained investigator, though district policy requires it, records show.

Moreover, training records indicate the Cedar Rapids Community School District’s designated investigators were all at least three years overdue for recertification, a violation of Iowa Code.

The handling of 24-year-old substitute teacher Mary Beth Haglin’s conduct earlier this year with the Washington High student led to the sudden retirement of Principal Ralph Plagman, 72, after 35 years as the head of the school.

According to training records from all nine area education agencies in the state, which provide the training, no Washington High administrator — including Plagman and associate principals Darius Ballard, Valerie Nyberg, Michael Johnson and recently retired Paul James — has undergone training in at least 10 years.

Plagman received training in 2003, but board-approved Level One Investigators must be certified every five years.

None of the administrators responded to requests by The Gazette for comment.

District officials have said the February and May investigations of Haglin were conducted by Washington High administrators but have declined to name who was involved in those inquires.

Plagman took responsibility for the probes in an Aug. 2 statement.

Cedar Rapids police arrested Haglin on July 22 on a charge of sexual exploitation, and she since has admitted to having sex with the 17-year-old male student while she worked at Washington High.

That kind of conduct — defined in the district’s policy handbook as “abuse of students by district employees” — should be investigated by a Level One Investigator who receives training at least every five years.

“There’s a lot riding on that, certainly,” said Evan Abbey, director of the training program, based in Des Moines. “Students’ safety is very paramount to this, so having training that covers the basics — that should be your bare minimum.”

But records show not even the district’s three board-approved Level One Investigators had been trained for more than five years until last week. Those investigators were not involved in the Haglin investigations, district officials have said.

The three current board-approved investigators are Prekindergarten-through-grade-8 Executive Director Val Dolezal, Wright Elementary Principal Greg O’Connell and Human Resources Director Jill Cirivello.

Cirivello since has left the district, and O’Connell — now principal at Coolidge Elementary — would not comment for this story. Dolezal could not be reached.

The required training for investigators spells out their legal obligations during an investigation of employee abuse, Abbey said, including how to correctly create a report about the investigation.

District officials have said no report was created during the February investigation on Haglin and have not answered questions about the May probe.

When The Gazette first examined records on Monday, Aug. 1, O’Connell’s last training was dated in 2004, Dolezal’s in 2006 and Cirivello’s in 2007.

By Friday, Dolezal and O’Connell had been recertified, which takes about two hours online. Kennedy High Principal Jason Klein also completed the training this past week.

At the time of the Haglin investigations, the only district employee with current certification was Travis Wolf, a fourth-grade teacher at Cleveland Elementary, records show.

Ensuring investigators have current certification, Abbey said, is the responsibility of school district officials.

“Given the seriousness of the potentiality of injuries (against a student) that are sustained for these issues that would require Level One investigations, it’s very important that these people are knowledgeable about these issues,” Abbey said.

Haglin is out on $6,500 bail, awaiting trial.

Give us feedback

Have you found an error or omission in our reporting? Tell us here.
Do you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.