Residents Make Bullying Allegations Against Local Teacher

A group of Oberlin parents is calling for an investigation into Oberlin City Schools teacher Sharyle Strayer, citing allegations of bullying dating back to 2002. In a Sept. 25 email addressed to OCS Superintendent David Hall and members of the Oberlin Board of Education, the group said Strayer has had many complaints filed against her over her 16-year career with OCS.

Strayer, who taught sixth-grade math during the 2017–18 academic year, is currently working as an intervention support instructor at Oberlin High School. The position will be re-evaluated at the end of the 2018–19 academic year.

A 49-page document was attached to the email, which was signed by Oberlin residents Jeanne Lee Singleton, Rich Ruggieri-Katz, Joshua Katz, Debbi Walsh, and City Councilmember Kelley Singleton. Among its contents was a 2014 letter addressed to Strayer from then-OCS Superintendent John Schroth.

“Consider this memorandum to serve as a reprimand for your inappropriate conduct during the past school year,” it read. “On many occasions during this past year, you have engaged in student interactions that have been described as bullying toward students. Any repetition of these behaviors will result in my recommendation that the board terminate your employment.”

The group alleges that, since Schroth’s letter, the district has done little to address Strayer’s behavior.

“This documents stories from former students and parents as well as a timeline … to show the numerous complaints made in the 16 years Ms. Strayer has been with the district,” they wrote. “It is remarkable to note that parents have made substantive complaints to almost all 11 administrators (six principals and five superintendents) since she started in the district in 2002.”

According to Oberlin Board of Education President Anne Schaum, the district is taking the allegations seriously.

“Upon [reported] allegations at the end of the last school year, Principal Michael Scott and Superintendent David Hall conducted an investigation and worked with the accused teacher and the union to put together a plan to address the concerns,” Schaum wrote in an email to the Review. “Part of that plan involved removing the teacher from the classroom and increasing oversight of the teacher’s interactions with students and families.”

Singleton said that when he examined Strayer’s employee file earlier this year, little documentation of complaints against Strayer was present.

“We asked to see [Strayer’s] file, to see what kind of history there is in there,” Singleton said. “And there’s nothing in there. There’s no supporting documentation for any of the problems that everyone around town knows that she’s guilty of.”

However, neither Schaum nor Hall corroborated Singleton’s account.

“The review of personnel files and practices that the board asked to be conducted did not find that any anticipated items were missing from personnel records,” Schaum wrote. “Access to them is controlled.”

“The district has performed an audit of personnel files,” Hall added, also in an email to the Review. “All records on our audit list were located in the files. We will perform a random audit not less than three times a year.”

Also included in the email is a five-page timeline of alleged events involving Strayer and nearly 40 pages of testimonial from parents whose children have been enrolled in Strayer’s classes over the years.

The Singleton and Ruggieri-Katz families both have students who were enrolled in Strayer’s sixth-grade math class during the 2017–18 academic year. Both families say that accounts of Strayer’s inappropriate behavior involving their children prompted them to draft the email.

“What finally happened was she forced a friend of our son’s to call his father and tell him that my son and another child were not good friends of his because they always get him in trouble,” Kelley Singleton said. “We never heard about this. You’d think that if it was my kid causing trouble that I would get a phone call and that it’d be from a teacher.”

According to Singleton, this has been a regular practice of Strayer’s.

“She had a history of forcing children to call their parents,” he said. “In this instance, though, [the friend] left a voicemail. And that’s how this all happened, is we actually had physical proof of her forcing a kid to do this.”

Ruggieri-Katz reports that his daughter also had a negative experience in Strayer’s class, saying that she witnessed inappropriate behavior towards other students. One alleged incident involved Strayer telling a male student that girls wouldn’t like him if he didn’t do well in class.

“As a parent, it was like the twilight zone,” Ruggieri-Katz said. “This can’t be a teacher doing this and saying this.”

Ruggieri-Katz also cited that Strayer wouldn’t allow students to go to the bathroom during class, which he views as particularly damaging during a vulnerable middle school period.

“It goes beyond bullying — it’s abusive to do something like that,” he said, adding that his family filed a complaint with the Ohio Department of Education. Hall declined to comment on whether the district had been contacted regarding a complaint filed against Strayer at the state level.

Allegations included in the Sept. 25 email are similar to Singleton’s and Ruggieri-Katz’s. Parents submitted testimony that Strayer would regularly berate students publicly, eat in class, compel students to call home about bad grades and misbehavior, and assign grades inconsistent with the level of work students had actually completed.

Schaum emphasized that she and other members of the district’s leadership are significantly limited in the depth to which they can discuss personnel matters. She did, however, characterize the allegations against Strayer as an “ongoing matter” and shared that Hall is in the process of following up with disgruntled parents who shared experiences at the most recent school board meeting.

“All complaints are taken seriously and investigated by the administration,” she wrote. “As requested, the district is undertaking a more thorough investigation of complaints concerning this teacher.”

Ruggieri-Katz isn’t confident in the district’s commitment to addressing the allegations.

“It seems like every time we talk to the school board, you’re looking at [the blank stares] of a bunch of people sitting up there with no response to anything that’s going on,” he said. Ruggieri-Katz claims that he has never received a response to emails sent to the entire board, and characterized Hall’s reaction to the situation as “weak.”

Hall says he respects the commitment and dedication of parents in ensuring academic excellence for the district.

“Our school community has the same goal,” he wrote in an email to the Review. “We need to work together to achieve this goal and move the district forward.”

Both Ruggieri-Katz and Singleton say that they are advocating against Strayer out of a commitment to the school district and future students.

“I love the Oberlin school district,” Singleton said. “That’s what I went through, and I’m really happy that my kids are going through it. It’s just such a great place. We were kind of blindsided by a situation like this.”

Sharyle Strayer did not respond to request for comment.