New Richmond High School teacher contract terminated
An alleged inappropriate relationship with a student has led to the termination of New Richmond High School teacher Ken Bessac.
Bessac, a now former career and technical education teacher at New Richmond High School, was dismissed from his position at the high school on April 8 after the New Richmond Board of Education voted unanimously to terminate his contract. According to Bessac's personnel file with the district, an inappropriate relationship with a female student, making false statements and insubordination were the reasons for the termination. According to Bessac, a lot of facts were left out of the file.
"Their point that I had a sexual affair with this lady is untrue," he said. "After 18 years of teaching, yeah I've developed some close relationships with the kids."
Bessac said it's not uncommon for teachers to form close friendships with their students.
"If anyone else who has taught for that long tells you differently, they're lying like crazy," he said. "I have students from my first year of teaching that I still keep in touch with."
An investigation was launched on Feb. 25 after the district received information about the alleged relationship, said Jeff Moberg, human resources director.
Bessac, who has been with the school district since June 28, 2000, was immediately put on paid administrative leave.
According to Bessac's personnel file, 12 examples of evidence were cited to support the district's conclusion that an inappropriate relationship with a student existed. According to the district's employee handbook, which is signed by all district staff, an inappropriate relationship can be a social or romantic relationship with a student, regardless of whether or not the student is 18 years old.
Bessac's alleged relationship with the student is traced back to the summer of 2011 when, according to the personnel file, an adult witnessed the two flirting at an event outside of school. According to the file, the behavior made the adult feel very uncomfortable.
Other examples cite several video surveillance clips where Bessac was allegedly alone with the student in her vehicle for an extended period of time - up to an hour and a half in some examples. In other examples, Bessac allegedly could be viewed making "physical contact" with the student, according to the file.
On Saturday, Jan. 19, high school video surveillance allegedly shows Bessac arriving at the high school in his truck, parking it in the auto garage and leaving again in the student's vehicle. According to the file, Bessac and the student did not return to the school until 9:36 a.m. the following morning. The investigation also revealed that the student's parents were out of town that weekend.
According to Bessac, he went ice fishing that weekend and simply got a ride from the student because his truck was too heavy to park on the ice and he didn't want to leave the truck unattended overnight.
On Feb. 10 the district claims Bessac arrived at the school with the female student in his tow truck. About an hour later he left with the student before returning again with the student.
According to Bessac, he had given the student a ride to the school, with the girl's father's permission, because a snow storm was approaching and her father didn't want her driving. He also happened to be on-call and an hour after arriving at the school, he was called for a tow.
"I can't just leave her alone at the school so she came with," he said.
On March 5, during a search of Bessac's classroom, school officials discovered several female items in a file cabinet, including three shirts belonging to the female student. District officials also found a medical discharge sheet for the student dated Feb. 17.
"Yeah, that's my room, but it's also an open lab," he said. "It's not my stuff. All sorts of kids use that room."
On March 15, the student reportedly admitted to a parent that she was "involved" with Bessac.
To make matters worse, the district claims Bessac allegedly lied about many of the above examples, claiming he never spent time alone with the student without her parent's permission and never had any physical contact -- including hugging -- with her.
"I don't keep a daily journal of my life," he said. "Do you know what you were doing at 2 p.m. last Saturday? If you're under the gun to answer these questions, I don't remember that stuff."
Bessac said after many of the initial interviews, he approached district administration to clarify his answers, but he said he was already dubbed a liar.
According to the personnel file, the district attempted to meet with Bessac on numerous occasions to discuss the investigation and gather additional information; however, Bessac allegedly refused to attend the meetings.
Bessac agreed that the refusal paints an uncooperative picture of himself; however, he believes the meetings would have been a waste of his time.
"After the first few meetings they made it very clear that I needed to resign or they'd terminate me, so what's the point in meeting with them?" he asked.
Moberg said Bessac's accusations are false.
"We did a very unbiased, thorough and complete investigation," he said. "We worked hard to uncover all the relevant information. We didn't go into this with a decision made. We don't make decisions until we've exhausted all resources."
Bessac said he has many personal relationships with his students.
"I've gone out to the race track with these kids, gone to their houses, worked on their family's cars..." he said.
He said his relationship with the student in question is probably closer than other students, but that's because of the relationship their families had.
"Is it weird that we had this relationship when she's not my own daughter? Maybe," he said. "But I did nothing physically wrong like they're making it out to be."
"What Moberg wrote down looks bad. It looks really bad. It makes me look like an animal. What's going on here - these accusations are ludicrous. Do I get personal with these kids? Yeah. But not to the extent that Moberg wants people to think."
Moberg, who has also worked as a teacher and principal at New Richmond High School, said it's common for teachers to form "positive student-teacher relationships;" however, those relationships have boundaries.
Bessac said he doesn't plan to fight the school district because it's their word against his. Instead he'll go to work in the private sector.
"Moberg made assumptions based on what he wanted to hear," Bessac claimed. "I'm just going to pick myself up and move on."
Before being hired in New Richmond, Bessac worked as a technology education instructor at Chilton and as a substitute teacher in Boyceville, Spring Valley and Menomonie. According to the school district's website, Bessac's most recent class load included welding, graphic imaging, machine tool II, introduction to engineering and principals of engineering. Bessac also previously advised the school's high mileage vehicle club.