Toledo Public Schools administrators want to fire a Bowsher High School dean of students who was suspended last year after he was accused of engaging in an inappropriate relationship with a female student.
Lewis W. Ackerman, 36, told TPS staff he started dating the student soon after she graduated in the spring of 2013. But he insists there was no relationship while the student attended Bowsher.
Disciplinary proceedings against Mr. Ackerman started when the district suspended him July 5. A recommendation to terminate Mr. Ackerman came from the human resources department in September, though his case is still pending. District intentions were hinted at in this month’s Toledo Board of Education human resources committee documents, where Mr. Ackerman is listed under the “separations from employment” section.
According to TPS documents, Mr. Ackerman was alleged to be in a relationship with a student last school year, which he repeatedly denied. TPS records show he said he asked the student out the night of the school’s graduation and to continuing a relationship after that, but denies having an inappropriate relationship with the woman while she was a student.
Annmarie Heldt, the TPS hearing officer who presided over Mr. Ackerman’s case, was not convinced. She wrote her belief that Mr. Ackerman “encouraged and engaged in an inappropriate relationship with this student” and that she believed Mr. Ackerman had broken the law.
“This hearing and the case laid out regarding this matter are the most troubling I have dealt with in over 40 years of experience I’ve had with education,” Ms. Heldt wrote.
Attempts to reach Mr. Ackerman for comment were unsuccessful.
Mr. Ackerman was in charge of the school’s Behavior Intervention Center, which is a form of in-school suspension. He also coached Bowsher’s baseball and girls tennis teams and was serving as the acting dean of students at the school at the time of the allegations.
The allegations against Mr. Ackerman involve a member of the tennis team who also served as his student aide, meaning she “spent a considerable amount of time alone with him,” Ms. Heldt wrote. Allegations that the two were in a relationship began during the school year, TPS documents show.
Students, teachers, and parents told the principal, Linda Meyers, about the allegations, and the student appeared to confirm through social media that she was in a relationship with Mr. Ackerman.
“Throughout this alleged relationship, the Bowsher High School community was aware of the allegations,” Ms. Heldt wrote.
Mr. Ackerman denied the accusations. Ms. Meyers interviewed the student’s parents. According to TPS documents, the mother said there wasn’t anything to the allegations, though the father expressed concern and told the principal his daughter needed counseling and psychological help. The father also told Ms. Meyers that his daughter told him she “was in love with Mr. Ackerman,” TPS documents show.
The student was removed from Mr. Ackerman’s office, and he was warned to avoid contact with her. It is not clear in the report when she was removed.
Mr. Ackerman asked the student out the day of graduation, later telling district management “that’s the way it’s done,” according to Ms. Heldt’s report.
The two went as a couple to a graduation party for a tennis team member several days later. The team member’s father was a Bowsher teacher, and he turned the pair away when they showed up, TPS documents show.
Mr. Ackerman admitted the date to TPS officials and said they went on several trips as a couple after the student graduated. But while Ms. Heldt wrote in her report that she believed the relationship began before the student graduated, there’s no reference to hard evidence.
A Toledo Police Department spokesman said that TPS security contacted a detective about the vacations. Because the woman was 18 at the time of the trip and was not then a student at the school, it was determined no crime was committed.
“It may have been against TPS policy, but it wasn’t against the law,” Sgt. Joe Heffernan wrote in an email.
Lucas County Children Services was also notified by TPS about the relationship.
Mr. Ackerman elected in October to take his case to arbitration, though proceedings have not yet begun. When members of the Toledo Federation of Teachers elect arbitration in termination cases, the arbitrator’s decision is binding between both the Toledo Board of Education and the staff member.
District and union officials have for the most part declined to discuss Mr. Ackerman’s case, citing the impending arbitration hearing. Assistant Superintendent Brian Murphy said TPS staff and security, which includes licensed peace officers, thoroughly investigated the allegations.
Contact Nolan Rosenkrans at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6086, or on Twitter @NolanRosenkrans.