By Andrew Harris
On the heels of allegations by a student that lead to a criminal and internal investigation into a teacher who had sexually harassed the student, another complaint has surfaced.
The Bolivar-Richburg community faced a criminal inquiry into the conduct of a teacher last month after a parent took to social media demanding action over the treatment of their child. That investigation, headed by Acting Officer-in-Charge of the Bolivar Police Department Stephen McPherson, was presented to the Allegany County District Attorney. The conclusion was that the complaint filed was not found to be criminal in nature.
While hard to believe, the act of sexually harassing a child or student is not a criminal act. Last year New York State proposed to be the first in the nation to make sexually harassing children illegal, but the law was not passed. Read more on that effort:
The Wellsville Sun was informed of a second complaint filed, reportedly by a separate student, concerning a different teacher than the first complaint. While those details could not be confirmed by authorities, BRCS Superintendent of Schools Michael Retzlaff did acknowledge another investigation is underway. Retzlaff also acknowledged that the complaint had already been received by the school in 2021:
“The District recently learned that the Bolivar Police had received another allegation against one of our employees. We are cooperating with law enforcement in its investigation. This particular complaint was reviewed by the District internally in September 2021 and have taken the appropriate internal steps in response to the complaint at that time.“
The Wellsville Sun has also spoke with Officer McPherson concerning the latest complaint. McPherson confirmed that he had received the second complaint and would be meeting with the Allegany County District Attorney in the coming days to determine if the actions amount to criminal behavior.
McPherson noted that he had learned the matter was already internally investigated by the school district in late 2021. The Wellsville Sun asked what McPherson could say about that internal investigation. He said “I wasn’t involved. It was an internal investigation. The school would only contact law enforcement if it was a criminal investigation.
When Superintendent Retzlaff was asked about why McPherson, also the BRCS Resource Officer, wasn’t involved in that internal investigation, as he was in the previously reported investigation, Retzlaff offered this:
“It is District procedure that such complaints are investigated internally in accordance with District policy. If such complaint rises to the level or suspicion of a criminal matter, we will then refer to law enforcement authorities.“
From that comment by the Superintendent, the policy which guides district investigations into student complaints is thrown into question. The February investigation by BRCS included the school resource officer, McPherson. That inconsistency leads inquiring minds to wonder why wouldn’t the district include a law enforcement professional and school employee in every investigation?
Retzlaff offered this reply and didn’t directly address the discrepancy between the two recent investigations:
“Although we cannot comment on a specific personnel matter, Bolivar Richburg remains committed to providing a safe and supportive learning environment for all students and takes all complaints seriously.”
Officer McPherson will be bringing these latest charges before the district attorney in the coming days and has agreed to provide the results to the Wellsville Sun as soon as possible.
Stay tuned for more on this evolving situation at Bolivar-Richburg. As always, we encourage students and families to report any instance of abusive behavior by faculty and staff at BRCS to Superintendent Retzlaff: firstname.lastname@example.org or if you’d rather email the Wellsville Sun, News@WellsvilleSun.com