Huron High School orchestra teacher's relationship with former student basis for possible tenure charges, document shows
Huron High School orchestra teacher Chris Mark's relationship with a former student was nothing more than a passionate educator trying to reach a troubled student, his attorney argues.
But the district, in its investigation that could lead to tenure charges against Mark, accused him of engaging in an inappropriate relationship that including “grooming” and “abuse of trust," the attorney says in a six-page letter to the Ann Arbor school board obtained by AnnArbor.com.
Nicholas Roumel, an employment attorney at NachtLaw, 101 N. Main St., wrote to school board members ahead of tonight’s meeting, where the investigation into Mark’s conduct is expected to be discussed. He said Mark, 45, is now dating the former student but did not engage in any inappropriate behavior while she attended Huron.
Roumel, who served on the Ann Arbor school board from 1994 to 2000, said this afternoon he never intended for the letter to become public, and it was meant to be a communication between his client and the school board. He declined further comment.
AnnArbor.com was unable to reach Mark or the former student, who graduated five years ago.
Roumel said in the letter dated Dec. 14 that the tenure charges paint Mark in a “false light” and “seriously and egregiously misrepresents the nature of the relationship” between Mark and the former student while she attended Huron. Tenure charges are the first step in the process to terminate a teacher's employment.
“(The communications) were guided from Mr. Mark’s sense of responsibility to reach out to a student who was literally in danger of losing her life because of her unstable home situation,” Roumel said.
AnnArbor.com is not using the name of the former student due to the allegations involving her home life in the statement.
District spokeswoman Liz Margolis said Tuesday that no decision had been reached on Mark’s status, and said she could not comment further due to the legal nature of the investigation.
Mark has been on leave since August, when the district began investigating his conduct. In the letter, Roumel said the mother of Mark’s girlfriend, who disapproved of the relationship, made the complaint.
Mark has received support from former and current students, as well as Huron High School parents. More than 100 supporters crowded a school board meeting last month in a show of support.
Roumel characterized Mark as a thoughtful teacher who was only looking out for a troubled student. According to Roumel, the relationship eventually advanced, but that didn't occur until after she graduated from Huron.
He said there were never any sexual advances made by Mark while she was a student.
"But for a single peck on the cheek, there was never any intimate contact while (she) was a student," the letter says.
He provided an e-mail from Mark to the student, which he said was misrepresented by district administrators as a "love letter."
A portion of that e-mail reads:
“I've said too much. I don't know what else to tell you. I LOVE YOU, (student's name). I always have--after I met you. My son, LOVES YOU! Jesus LOVES YOU. Why won't YOU love YOU? YOU are surrounded by people with FANTASTIC judgement (sic)! Just give in and accept the fact-- YOU ARE LOVEABLE, FANTASTIC, WONDERFULLY TALENTED and a JOY TO HAVE THE PRIVILEDGE OF KNOWING!
Can I lay it on ANY thicker?
For Huron and graduation:
I can't fail you if you can keep coming to classes. That's the last thing I want to do, anyway. So there you have it. A teacher has given in to you. He has told you that you have all of the power in the relationship. He has acknowledged that as long as you can just show up each day for the next few weeks, you will receive FULL credit as if you had been there each day ALL year.
I hope you can handle this power and not take it for granted. If you do, and you blow us off just once between now and graduation, I can't be held responsible for the wrath I will bring. I care too much, and where matters of the heart are concerned, human beings are most illogical...
This isn't a threat. I'm a very passionate man and you know where you stand with me, but please, don't break my heart any more. I can't take it. Honestly. I have to turn in a grade for you. Make it one of honor and truth.”
Roumel argues it's unfair to view those e-mails in the context of their current relationship.
“Trustees, I would hope that any teacher in this district would not be punished for responding to a suicidal student with a supportive, ‘you can do it, you are loved!’ type of e-mail,” he wrote.
Roumel's letter says Mark generated only one complaint from a parent during his nine years at Huron — and it was the complaint by his girlfriend's mother that led to the investigation.
According to Roumel, Mark only spent social time with his current girlfriend three times while she was a student — going golfing and watching a hockey game, visiting her home to take her to a middle school concert with her mother’s permission and a "quick dinner" at Applebee’s.
Roumel asked trustees to independently reconsider the tenure charges against Mark and reach a decision that would not dismiss him or commence tenure proceedings.
"Once you vote to commence tenure proceedings, Chris Mark’s career will be virtually over," he wrote. "He will be unemployable. No other district will touch him. AAPS will no doubt report, as permitted by state law, that he engaged in 'unprofessional conduct.' And while Chris clings to the hope of winning his tenure case, your attorneys will confirm for you that the chances of teachers ever winning these matters is virtually nil. Once you trustees vote, the downward spiral begins."
Kyle Feldscher covers K-12 education for AnnArbor.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.