The Columbus Ohio school district is investigating a substitute teacher for critical and personal comments he wrote online about students — including crude sexual references about a boy he thought was also gay.
Jared Brayton Bollenbacher chronicles his classroom experiences and personal life in a blog, or online diary, titled, “Where Have All the Drag Queens Gone?”
He does not identify students or schools by name, but in several entries he gives detailed accounts of his interactions with them.
Bollenbacher posted an entry last Monday describing his day at a high school.
“During fourth period, I had a homo. I believe that we both realized the other liked … at the same minute,” he wrote, using a vulgar word for penis. He later wrote, “Every few moments I would look up from my erotic porn writing and see him staring at me.”
Bollenbacher, 23, now says the porn-writing reference was a joke.
Bollenbacher will not substitute in the district “until an investigation can be completed with respect to any student-privacy violations associated with his blog site,” said district spokesman Jeff Warner.
Bollenbacher, who has been a substitute teacher about one year, said he did not do anything wrong because he did not identify students and never shared the blog with students.
“It was honestly just for my friends,” he said.
But the blog, which also includes explicit descriptions of sexual acts and pictures of him in his underwear, could be easily found by a Web search using his name until Friday. The site was closed to the public over the weekend, requiring a password to access.
Warner said school-district policy does not address what teachers do online in their own time.
“The only thing we can address is something that would be a violation of student rights or student privacy,” Warner said. “There has not been anything from a performance or behavior perspective at school that allows us to take any action” against Bollenbacher.
An anonymous caller upset about a blog entry contacted the Franklin County sheriff’s office about Bollenbacher’s site about a week ago, said Chief Deputy Steve Martin.
Martin said the department alerted the school district about the site, but he added that “at this point, we are not investigating anything criminally.”
Warner said district officials did not know about the blog until Friday, when they were contacted by The Dispatch.
In January, William Doermann, who was principal of Arts Impact Middle School at the time, requested that Bollenbacher not be allowed to substitute at the North Side school.
A sixth-grade boy said Bollenbacher rubbed his shoulders and back and asked “if he was offended by his gayness,” Doermann wrote in a performance report.
Bollenbacher disputes the boy’s description of the incident. He said the student called him a derogatory name for a gay person. Bollenbacher then sent him to the principal’s office.
The district had a hearing about the incident and took no action.
The Ohio Department of Education, which licenses teachers, has a broad policy that allows investigations of teachers accused of “conduct unbecoming the teaching profession.”
The Columbus schools do not have a policy on teachers’ Internet use outside of school, Warner said.
The Columbus Education Association, which represents full-time teachers but not substitute teachers, advises its members not to use social Internet sites such as MySpace and Facebook.
CEA President Rhonda Johnson said it’s inappropriate for a teacher to write about his or her sex life online.
Johnson said she is not aware of any cases of a Columbus teacher being disciplined for something they’ve written online. But she said there is a line that shouldn’t be crossed.
“To be on the safe side, teachers need to not put personal information on the Internet. Then we don’t have to worry about what’s appropriate and what’s not appropriate,” she said. “If you don’t have anything (online), you can’t make a mistake.”
There are cases nationwide of teachers and other professionals who resigned after their personal blogs and online activities caused a stir at work.
Columbus Police Officer Susan L. Purtee resigned Friday as the division investigated her racist and anti-Semitic remarks in an online video that she made while off duty.
Bollenbacher said he could take legal action if the district dismisses him permanently. But he said he will take down his blog if school officials ask him to.
“Obviously, this is a problem,” he said, but added, “I have done nothing illegal.”