The Rootstown High School math teacher charged with sexual imposition and physical assault in April has been suspended without pay or benefits, as the Board of Education works to finalize the termination of his contract.
On Monday, the board held a special meeting to discuss Christopher DiBattista’s employment, and after a 20-minute executive session, voted in favor of Superintendent Andrew Hawkins’ recommendation to suspend DiBattista without pay. Board member Eric Kline was not present. The board did not publicly discuss the matter.
DiBattista, 40, of Garrettsville, was charged on April 25 with three counts of misdemeanor sexual imposition and one count of assault involving three students. He has been on paid administrative leave since March 19.
DiBattista taught Integrated Math 3, Probability and Statistics, History of Mathematics and Honors Integrated Math 3, and was also the senior class adviser and adviser of Quiz Bowl. A long-term substitute has been in place since April 16, and other staff members have taken over his advising roles.
The allegations against DiBattista include laying his head in the lap of a 17-year-old student on March 5; and between Aug. 28, 2018 and March 19, 2019, punching the same student in the arm, touching a then-16-year-old’s thigh with his hand and “spooning” with another 17-year-old student, according to court documents.
His arraignment is scheduled for Thursday in Portage County Municipal Court in Ravenna.
The resolution passed by the board lists those allegations, and additionally lists allegations that he “rubbed the shoulders and upper arms of students, laid on top of a student who was laying on a classroom heater, and hugged and initiated horseplay with students in a manner that made them uncomfortable.”
Hawkins declined to comment on whether the district has conducted a separate, internal investigation.
In that same school year, DiBattista “discussed sexting with students in an approving manner, requested permission to ‘cuddle’ a student, when a student objected to his conduct DiBattista stated that the principal would believe him instead of the student and asked if touching made a student uncomfortable,” according to the resolution.
The resolution goes on to state that on May 3, Hawkins gave DiBattista written notice that he was considering recommending that the board terminate DiBattista’s employment contract. On May 8, Hawkins met with DiBattista and his representative and provided DiBattista written notice that he would make the recommendation to terminate employment.
As per the resolution, district Treasurer Connie Baldwin will provide DiBattista with a written notice of the board’s intention to consider his termination. Hawkins stated that pursuant to the Ohio Revised Code, DiBattista has a right to request a hearing and has a right that the hearing not occur during the summer, therefore the termination may not be finalized until school resumes in the fall.
According to district documents obtained by the Record-Courier, Hawkins sent DiBattista a letter on March 19 stating that DiBattista would be reassigned to his home and must be available to perform work there, if requested.
“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.”
That reassignment was effective immediately and did not affect his salary or benefits.
“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 previously stated. He declined to comment on who notified the district.
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, email@example.com or on Twitter @KristaKanoRCedu.