CENTERVILLE — Documents obtained by the Ottumwa Courier disclosed a high school counselor had been under investigation for inappropriate contact with female students for weeks before school officials agreed to let him voluntarily resign.
The Centerville Community School Board approved the resignation agreement with Ryan Hodges on Feb. 13. The agreement allowed him to collect an additional 15 days of pay from Feb. 3 when the agreement was signed.
Hodges had been on paid administrative leave since at least late November, when a female student filed a complaint about him with school officials. Two investigations showed Hodges’ actions created a “hostile” environment and that his actions were “inappropriate.”
In addition to school counselor, Hodges served as the high school baseball coach and had been appointed an investigator into claims of student abuse in the school district.
Centerville Schools Superintendent Mark Taylor insisted Hodges' resignation was voluntary. That distinction is necessary under Iowa public records law to avoid providing reasons or rationale if a resignation was deemed to be in lieu of termination.
School officials refused to release to the Courier the separate investigation reports of Hodges conducted by Anne Morgan, of the Great Prairie Area Education Agency, and Appanoose County Attorney Susan Cole.
The investigative documents obtained by the Courier were verified as legitimate by the parents of the student who filed the complaint against Hodges. The newspaper is not identifying the parents or their daughter at their request and in line with the paper’s policy of withholding names of alleged sexual abuse victims and their families to protect them from retribution.
The mother of the student chastised school officials for refusing to make the investigative reports public.
“By accepting a ‘voluntary resignation’ they have removed themselves from their responsibilities to inform the public,” she said. “Allowing Mr. Hodges to continue his predatory behavior and allowing the district to sweep everything under the rug. All the while, leaving my child to take the fall. The community deserves better. And I demand it.”
The mother said school officials had failed to protect her daughter “when their own staff and students have continued to harass and bully her. Their behavior has been utterly appalling and disheartening. And a prime example of why most victims don’t come forward.”
Taylor did not respond to questions about the parent’s bullying allegations.
Jim Carney, an attorney for Hodges, declined to comment on the investigative reports. He said they were confidential documents and their findings should not be publicly available.
Morgan’s level one administrative investigation began Nov. 30 and ended Dec. 21 with a report concluding that Hodges had been grooming female students with inappropriate texting and conversations.
Grooming by itself is not illegal under Iowa law, but Morgan wrote in her report that the behavior would be “highly inappropriate” for any school employee, but especially a school guidance counselor.
Morgan’s report said a “case could be made” that Hodges was attempting to sexualize the relationship with the female student complainant because of innuendos, comments and pictures/videos contained in text messages.
Morgan’s report said Hodges admitted to sharing stories of his prior drinking. “I don’t hide a lot of stuff … if beneficial to them,” the report quoted him as saying. The report also said the female student said Hodges had shared a story with students about waking up naked with other girls in the room, and that he had sent a female student a video of himself shirtless on a lawnmower with a drink in his hand.
The report also said Hodges indicated he never engaged in inappropriate storytelling, but when asked about waking up naked with girls in the room, he admitted to discussing it but said “not in that graphic detail.” Morgan’s report said Hodges told her he sometimes would join in a conversation with kids in his office, saying he wants to have a “fun, inviting environment as long as appropriate” and that if topics got “borderline, he would shut it down.”
Other conduct mentioned in the reports said a second female student interviewed said Hodges sent her a video of him taking alcohol shots at his house, and that he followed with a text saying, “sorry wrong number” but then went on to say, “if you girls want to come over and slam a few…”
The report did not make clear whether the former student was in high school or college at the time Hodges sent the video and text. Hodges told investigators he thought she was in college.
The reports said the student who filed the complaint and another former female student interviewed by the investigators said they felt “creepy and uncomfortable” around Hodges because of things he said to them and others.
Morgan’s report recommended an elevated level two administrative investigation, which fell to County Attorney Cole.
Cole’s inquiry ended Jan. 24. Her report said Hodges’ conduct amounted to sexual harassment of the female student complainant. Her report recommended school officials discipline Hodges. Just over a week later, he signed his resignation agreement.
While Cole is a prosecutor of criminal cases, her role as the level two investigator dealt with state law for abuse of students by school employees.
In her report, Cole said Hodges’ conduct “created an intimidating, hostile or offensive learning environment” for the female student, saying evidence met the preponderance of evidence standard. The report also said Hodges’ text messages were “predatory behavior” and “sexual abuse in the form of sexual harassment.”
The behavior effectively limited female students from having access to a guidance counselor, Cole said.
Cole’s report didn’t recommend criminal charges, but she indicated they could be possible if additional evidence developed.
Centerville Police Chief Tom Demry told the Courier he interviewed the female student complainant to determine if her allegations warranted a criminal investigation. He said they did not “at this time. This could change if additional information is gathered or additional people report a crime to us.”
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