A Rootstown High School teacher has been charged with three counts of gross sexual imposition and one count of assault involving three students.
According to court documents, Christopher DiBattista, 40, of Garrettsville, was accused of laying his head in the lap of a 17-year-old student on March 5. Between Aug. 28, 2018 and March 19, DiBattista is additionally accused of punching the same student in the arm, touching a then-16-year-old’s thigh with his hand, and “spooning” another 17-year-old student.
DiBattista, who has been on administrative leave from his job for more than a month. was not arrested but was issued a summons.
The gross sexual imposition charges are third-degree misdemeanors and the assault charge is a first-degree misdemeanor. The Record-Courier usually does not name those charged with misdemeanors, but has in this case because DeBattista is in a position of authority.
Superintendent Andrew Hawkins said Thursday that the incidents occurred at the high school, but he did not know if they happened during a class period.
“Once we were notified of it, we put things in motion as far as putting the teacher on leave immediately and getting law enforcement involved,” Hawkins said. He declined to comment on who notified the district.
Hawkins sent an “all-call” to all district parents Thursday afternoon. According to a press release from the district, the message said, in part, “The school district immediately removed this teacher from the care, custody, and control of students the day we first learned of some of the allegations. The school district continues to cooperate with law enforcement during the investigation.”
According to the press release, the Board of Education and administrators were advised by legal counsel not to comment.
According to district documents requested by the Record-Courier, on March 19, Hawkins sent Christopher DiBattista a letter stating that DiBattista would be reassigned to his home and must be available to perform work there, if requested.
DiBattista teaches Integrated Math 3, Probability and Statistics, History of Mathematics and Honors Integrated Math 3, according to the Rootstown School District website.
“Pending the completion of an investigation, I have concluded it is in the best interest of all concerned that you be reassigned to your home,” Hawkins wrote.
The letter also requests “that you refrain from entering school property during this investigation [and ... this action] does not constitute a disciplinary action or determination of wrongdoing on your part. At this time, the district considers this a private matter.”
The reassignment was effective immediately and does not affect his salary or benefits.
The topic was briefly discussed during the Board of Education meeting on April 15, when a parent questioned Hawkins and the board about the status of Honors Integrated Math 3, which DiBattista teaches.
While her questions and comments mostly concerned DiBattista’s substitute, the parent also questioned why parents were not notified that DiBattista would be out for so long and why he was still messaging her son on a homework app used by the district.
“He’s messaged my son about course work, but it is of concern if there’s a reason to be concerned why he’s not here,” she said. “I’m not copied on it so I don’t know about it unless my son shows me it. So there’s concerns that the school is looking into whatever it might be. I want to make sure my child is protected."
Hawkins said at the meeting that he was unable to discuss the matter.
In addition to the March 19 letter, DiBattista’s personnel file contained another letter placing him on paid administrative leave on April 20 and April 23, 2012. During those days, he was again assigned to work from home as “part of a standard investigatory procedure and does not constitute a disciplinary action or determination of wrongdoing on your part.” The file does not indicate a reason for the temporary reassignment.
He also has a reprimand from 2011 for “unprofessional behavior.”
Reporter Krista S. Kano can be reached at 330-541-9416, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @KristaKanoRCedu. Contact reporter Eileen McClory at 330-298-1128, email@example.com or @Eileen_McClory.