Assistant principal on leave while district investigates

lpemberton@theolympian.comApril 16, 2013 

A school administrator has been placed on paid leave while Tumwater School District officials launch their own investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct between a former paraeducator and a former student, district spokeswoman Kim Howard said Monday.

Black Hills High School assistant principal Darice Bales was put on leave last week, Howard said.

Her niece, Courtney Keller, who supervised detention at the 900-student school, is accused of having a sexual relationship with a former student beginning when he was 16.

“We are conducting our own investigation now that the police investigation has been completed,” Howard said. “It’s an investigation for the entire situation.”

Keller, 28, was arrested April 2 and released the following day on her own recognizance; she is charged with four counts of first-degree criminal sexual misconduct with a minor and will be arraigned Tuesday.

The former student is now 18. He disclosed the alleged sexual relationship to Bales and police in late February after someone sent an anonymous letter dated Jan. 31 outlining the relationship to the Tumwater School District.

Keller, who had worked at the school since 2006, resigned Feb. 23.

On that same day, Bales wrote a statement about a phone conversation she had with the former student that morning. A copy of the statement was obtained by The Olympian through a public records request.

In the statement, Bales said she woke up that morning with four missed calls on her cellphone from the student, and a message saying he needed to talk to her right away.

When she reached him, about 6:45 a.m., Bales said he told her that he had gotten drunk the night before and that “everything came out” and that “it’s all true.”

In addition, the student told Bales that the police investigation was tearing him up inside and that he didn’t want Keller to lose her job.

“I said, (to the student) you have to stop talking to me now,” Bales said. “This has nothing to do with her being my niece — I would do the same thing in this situation with anyone. You cannot talk to me about this. You need to talk to your mother.”

Bales has worked as assistant principal at Black Hills since 1999.

She was placed on administrative leave and disciplined by the district in 2006 for taking alcoholic beverages to the taping of a mock high school party where two students took a few sips of beer. The mock car crash was intended to show students the potential consequences of drinking and driving.

According to a story in The Olympian archives, Bales gave the students permission to open the beer cans to make their video more realistic, but told them not to drink it.

Bales wrote an apology to the students’ parents.

“My intent was to keep things as real as possible,” she wrote. “However, I acknowledge that bringing real props was both unprofessional and irresponsible. Placing students at risk for the purpose of realism is not acceptable. … I regret not only my actions but also the result of my actions — the focus shifted from a powerful message and assembly to me and my error in judgment.”

According to Bales’ Linked In profile, before working in Tumwater, she was a teacher and education coordinator at Lake Washington Individual Progress Center, which is a day-treatment facility for youths with severe behavioral and emotional disorders or mental illnesses. In addition, she worked as an English teacher in the Renton School District for two years, where she also contracted to teach Diversified Occupations at a group home for male juvenile sex offenders.

Lisa Pemberton: 360-754-5433 lpemberton@theolympian.com www.theolympian.com/edblog @Lisa_Pemberton Olympian reporter Jeremy Pawloski contributed to this report.

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