FINDLAY - Criminal charges won't be filed against a Liberty-Benton art teacher whose offhand remarks about killing her students were taken seriously by a seventh-grader and his parents.
But the damage to the middle-school teacher's reputation has been done, Superintendent Dennis Recker said yesterday.
“Her name has been drug through the mud,'' he said. “It's a shame.''
City Law Director David Hackenberg said that after reviewing the Hancock County sheriff's investigator's report, he concluded that Anne Thieman's conduct “did not rise to the level of criminal activity.”
On March 21 the parents of a Liberty-Benton seventh grader told the sheriff's office that Mrs. Thieman had told their son the day before that if he had a piece of paper he shouldn't have, she would shoot off his head.
The statement was apparently made loud enough for the rest of the second-period art class to hear. The 13-year-old told his mother that Mrs. Thieman spent the rest of the class period - about 20 minutes - apologizing for the comment and advising the students not to say anything to their parents about it.
The week before, the seventh grader said Mrs. Thieman told her art class that if they didn't have a vacation soon, she would “kill all of them.''
“While we certainly cannot condone such activity, especially in light of recent incidents involving school violence, it is our opinion that there is insufficient evidence to establish the elements of a criminal charge and will therefore not pursue criminal charges against the teacher involved,” Mr. Hackenberg said in a prepared statement.
He would not discuss the case with a reporter yesterday.
Mrs. Thieman could not be reached for comment.
In the wake of two recent school shootings in California, reports of threats have been rampant among area students, leading to charges of aggravated menacing for some of them. This was the first threat by a teacher in the area that was being investigated by law enforcement authorities.
Hancock County Sheriff Mike Heldman said he is satisfied with the law director's decision. He said the school took appropriate disciplinary action against Mrs. Thieman, including giving her a week off without pay and placing a letter in her file in which she acknowledged the comments were inappropriate.
“I think what the school has done has been very adequate,” he said.
Deputy Dave Spridgeon, who interviewed Mrs. Thieman, a student aide, and a University of Findlay student observer who were in the classroom when the comments were made, said he felt Mrs. Thieman had not shown any malicious intent.
He said the sheriff's policy regarding threats of school violence has been to assist the schools in dealing with the matters internally rather than automatically arresting students, or, in this case, the teacher.
Teresa Henthorne, who with her husband filed the original complaint with the sheriff's office, declined to comment on the situation yesterday.
“We're not commenting,” she said.
But Mr. Recker said that for “some reason this issue got out of hand.''
“Originally there were comments made that were inappropriate. They were unprofessional. And from an administrative standpoint, we dealt with those problems quickly,'' he said.
He said Mrs. Thieman agreed to take “five days of unpaid leave.''
“We had an agreement. But some of the people involved said they were going to push the issue. I mean, we thought this issue was taken care of,'' he said.
Ever since Columbine, where two students shot 12 students and a teacher to death in April, 1999, school districts across the nation have been taking threats by students seriously.
Mr. Recker said that the 1,350-student school district just west of Findlay has had reports of students making threat of violence. But he said all have been dealt with internally and none has resulted in an arrest.
He said the sheriff's office became involved in this case because a parent contacted the sheriff.
“We thought the case was done with when we ... took the administrative action. And here it is two weeks later, and the issue is still around,'' he said.
Mr. Recker said he understands that some people might look at the teacher's not being charged as “a double standard'' because a student probably would have been charged for uttering a similar remark.
“But here the actions were not illegal. What she lacked was good professional judgment at the time,'' he said.