CJN EXCLUSIVE
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Kline

A message posted on The Solon Soundboard accusing a former Solon City Schools band director of misconduct has caught the attention of local law enforcement, and brought to light details surrounding his resignation from the school system two years ago.

The band director has been identified as Edward L. Kline.

A post by Ariana Nicole Battiste, a 2015 Solon High School graduate, wrote on the public Facebook group that her band teacher sexually assaulted her when she was in eighth grade. The assault she described in her June 4 post occurred in 2010. She kept her pain private for a decade.

“I just wish I would have said something in 2010 so no one else would even have to carry around the same pain that I do,” Battiste wrote. “It’s time to stop being quiet …”

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Three days later, Solon graduate Bethany Davis shared a similar story about a Solon teacher. She wrote she had come forward in 2018 and told administrators about her experiences. She also said she started a private group message for other victims. “So that we can have a safe and private space to support each other through the process,” she wrote.

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The recent posts do not name the teacher, but according to Lucia Mack, Solon Soundboard administrator, they pertain to the actions of the same teacher, Kline, a former Solon High School band director and music department chair who was the subject of a Solon City School District investigation into inappropriate behavior dating back to 2014.

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Kline resigned from Solon schools in 2018 before his employment could be terminated, according to a report then-Superintendent Joseph Regano filed with the Ohio Department of Education in 2018. Regano died July 5.

The Solon Police Department confirmed to the Cleveland Jewish News it is investigating the allegations posted on Facebook. As of July 14, police had interviewed eight to 10 people in connection with an investigation of an unidentified former Solon teacher, according to Lt. Jamey Hofmann. Hofmann said he opened an investigation on June 8.

Kline, who has not been charged with any crime, worked with students from eighth to 12th grades in Solon from 2004 until his resignation in 2018.

Ian N. Friedman, Kline’s lawyer, emailed a statement to the CJN June 30, regarding Battiste’s accusation. Friedman is a founding partner of Friedman & Nemecek, LLC in Cleveland.

“The current claim against Mr. Kline is a mere unfounded allegation which has nothing to do with his resignation from the Solon School District years ago,” Friedman’s statement read. “We are pleased that the Solon Police Department takes every accusation, even those without challenge and merit, so seriously. Mr. Kline has nothing to hide and we trust that once complete, the judicial investigation will make clear that Mr. Kline has not violated any law or duty as an educator. If need be, we stand prepared to counter so that Mr. Kline may keep his good name and reputation.”

Friedman added a clarifying statement in a July 15 email to the CJN.

“At this time, it is our understanding that the police investigation began after one individual made a simple allegation,” he wrote. “Unfounded accusations are made all the time against people. We expect that this claim will ultimately be determined to lack merit.”

The CJN made a public records request and received documents detailing the district’s investigations into Kline, which show the school’s first inquiry into his conduct took place in 2014 and explain the 2017-18 allegations that the district deemed merited his termination. The records show prior to Kline’s resignation, an adult Solon graduate alleged she had sexual relations with him in his school office, inappropriate photos were found on his school-issued computer and other students reported inappropriate behavior.

School district’s announcement

The same day of Davis’ post, the Solon district wrote a letter informing students of “new allegations of inappropriate contact between a former teacher and student.” Without naming Kline, the letter encouraged alleged victims to contact police and pledged to work with former students in contacting “proper authorities.”

“My understanding is (Battiste’s) story is the thing that sparked other people to come forward and tell their stories,” said Fred Bolden, who was assistant superintendent during the 2018 investigation. Bolden was named interim superintendent July 7, two days after Regano died of cancer at age 72.

“I know we’ve dealt with several girls so far from our letter that we sent out and through social media content,” Bolden said. “We’ve been trying to encourage as many girls as possible to come forward so that we can help get them to the proper authorities so they can report their stories.”

In a July 1 email to the CJN, Bolden said the school district is not investigating any additional claims concerning Kline because he is no longer employed in Solon schools, and any new information should be provided to Solon police and the Ohio Department of Education.

“We issued a press release at the beginning of June because we were notified that former students had published new allegations concerning Mr. Kline on Facebook, and wanted to facilitate putting the students in touch with the proper state and local authorities, including the Ohio Department of Education and the Solon Police Department, to share any information they may have,” said Bolden.

Multiple attempts to reach Battiste were unsuccessful.

Davis told the CJN on June 9 and June 17 she was “not speaking to the press right now.”

First complaint in 2014

According to evaluations in Kline’s personnel file obtained by the CJN through public records requests, he received high marks on performance criteria. Before that, he was employed for nine years in Hudson City Schools in the band department for grades six to 12.

Kline, 50, is married and lives in Stow.

Within Kline’s personnel file were notes from interviews from a September 2014 investigation. At that time, two female students and their parents reported Kline made them feel “uncomfortable.”

One girl said, according to the district’s documentation, that while she was wearing a dress, Kline asked her to copy music in the copy room, where he stood close to her in a way that made her feel uncomfortable. She also said she was told by other girls the previous year that they felt uncomfortable wearing dresses or skirts around Kline. The second girl responded similarly.

When asked, one of the girls said she felt safe going to class that day, but handwritten notes in the investigation also say, “Parents do not feel comfortable w/ (name redacted) in class; very concerned & disappointed.”

The investigator wrote, “I asked the parents if they had any information that would warrant me calling the middle school and removing him from class immediately, they said NO.” The investigator asked parents whether they believed the information “would warrant” a call to Solon police and child services as well. The parents said no.

Bolden told the CJN in the July 1 email this was the first complaint about Kline’s behavior.

“When the school district receives allegations concerning employee misconduct, it takes such allegations seriously and thoroughly investigates them,” Bolden said.

Kline was interviewed on the same day as the girls and their parents, and was, according to the notes, “visibly shaken by the perception some of his students have of him, said his passion is teaching music to kids, and that he can’t believe his students feel this way.” He also reportedly said he would “stop having students make copies, that he would simply tell them he didn’t need help; that he would make sure he was never alone in his office with a student; that he would not shut the door unless the windows were clear when he was tuning an instrument or conducting a playing test.”

Regano notified Solon police of the 2014 allegations on Dec. 21, 2017, after another allegation against Kline emerged.

“I am forwarding the notes from the 2014 concerns of students regarding interactions with Mr. Kline,” Regano said in an email to Lt. Hofmann. “As I said, nothing was found then. This just raises more smoke and I’m concerned there could be a fire.”

Sexual relationship starts

Regano’s 2017 concerns were based on the report of a former Solon student who came forward in December 2017 with allegations that she and Kline had sexual relations in Kline’s office during school hours in 2016.

The former student, who had graduated from the district and was an adult at the time, provided the district records of the Facebook messages between her and Kline describing the encounter. She also provided sexually graphic photos and communications. She is referred to as “Student A” in the public records from the district’s 2017-18 investigation, and her name was redacted.

According to investigation documents, Kline disputed allegations he had relations with the former student on campus and said the photos were not sent during school hours.

Student A met Kline when he was her junior year study hall adviser, she told school officials during an early 2018 interview. Student A graduated in 2015 and they became friends on Facebook in summer 2016, which is how the sexual relationship began.

She said Kline communicated with her on Snapchat as well as Facebook, and that she blocked and unblocked him multiple times, at one point telling Kline she had a boyfriend.

Student A told investigators that Kline “asked to have sex with me,” and that Kline invited her to meet him for lunch at school during school hours in September 2016. She reported she arrived through a door near the band room, Facebook messaged Kline that she had arrived, and went to Kline’s office, where she performed a sex act on him.

Student A provided copies of the Facebook Messenger messages between Kline and her that discuss the encounter. In the messages, Kline said it was one of his favorite things he had done with her and he was scared about getting caught, which Regano relayed in the report to ODE.

“I did it under his pressure,” Student A told a school district investigator. “After he closed the door, he locked it.”

The two met four or five times in total, she said. She also told the investigator her motivation for coming forward.

“It’s who you hire,” she said, according to notes from the interview. “Students want to go to school to be safe.”

Regano described in the ODE report finding images of Kline’s “private parts” and a video of a woman engaged in sexual activity on his district-issued computer.

In a Jan. 23, 2018, email to Hofmann and to school officials, Bolden wrote, “I saw some of the messages on her Facebook phone. Ed Kline already admitted to having the text conversation with the woman.”

In Kline’s investigation meeting with Bolden, Regano and Solon Education Association representative Robert Rivera, he denied he had sexual relations with Student A at school saying, “It was a fantasy-type discussion, I would never do that,” according to meeting notes. He also said, according to the notes, Student A did not come to see him that day in 2016. He also denied the photos were taken on school grounds and said he “probably” communicated with the individual in question on school grounds. The photos were emailed to his school computer, he said.

During the 2018 investigation, Hofmann reviewed the statements Student A made to school officials.

“There was just no criminal activity there,” said Hofmann, adding that Student A did not talk with police.

The information was turned over to a prosecutor, who reviewed it at the time.

Hofmann said that case was “basically closed.”

Another student comes forward

In the midst of investigating Student A’s allegations, a 2013 Solon High School graduate, identified in documentation as Student B, contacted the district about Kline and was interviewed on March 5, 2018. Student B initially made an anonymous complaint regarding him on Dec. 2, 2015, to Solon’s Safe School Helpline.

She described unwanted physical contact by Kline while she was a student. She said while she was playing her instrument in the music pit, he would walk close behind her to get to his chair and “brush his body/grind very close to her backside.” She said he would also touch/brush/rub against her when he sat behind her to fix an instrument, as well as on a couple other occasions.

She told a school investigator he asked her to perform tasks like making copies, hanging up trophies and plaques, putting instruments on a high shelf and changing information on a bulletin board while she was wearing a dress.

“In fact, during the investigation, it was revealed that it was a common joke amongst students that Mr. Kline would target former Student B and other female students when they wore dresses and ask them to do various tasks,” Regano wrote in his ODE report.

Kline was sent home from school on paid administrative leave/assignment effective March 13, 2018, Regano told ODE and Bolden confirmed to the CJN.

When Kline was asked if he targeted female students in asking them to place instruments on high shelves while they were wearing dresses, he said, according to the notes from the investigation, “99% of the time I do that myself.” At one point, the notes suggest he told the school officials his lawyer advised him not to answer questions.

In a letter dated May 4, 2018, Regano notified Kline of a scheduled pre-termination hearing.

Teachers asked to cover for him

The 2017-18 investigation included interviews with at least four employees in the school’s music department. Interviews with Gary Lewis and Mark Mauldin were generally positive. In another, Rob Luce said Kline issued passes “slightly more” to female students to visit the band room during their other periods, and more so had female students do tasks like hang up plaques. Luce called him a friend.

Orchestra director Gerry MacDougall described Kline’s interactions with students as “very warm and affirmative towards girls, stand offish towards boys.”

MacDougall reported to an investigator that Kline told him, in the presence of Mauldin in a March 6, 2018, conversation that he was under investigation. “He then pleaded to both of us, ‘asking for a favor’ that we vouch for him, that we are always with him during lunch, and to me specifically, that ‘you’re always here during sixth period,’” MacDougall wrote in a statement he signed May 8, 2018. “I was stunned: My response was that I could only tell them what I do every day. It was clear to me that he expected me to lie about my presence in that room in order to vindicate him with regard to the allegations leveled against him.”

MacDougall also described his observations of Kline, consistent with the allegations from students who made complaints. He said he believed Kline engaged in what he called ‘“grooming’ techniques,” including “light touching while communicating with students; being unnaturally close to female students while talking to them, especially to the side, whispering in the ear, touching an elbow, or even arm around to the other shoulder while whispering (during large group rehearsal), a long history of students coming to his office with emergency ‘personal’ issues, that he was eager to assist in, as he was ‘better suited to help than guidance.’ I have also observed on at least one occasion (of) him leaning over/behind a student to pin something on the board in the copier room while demonstrating how to go about copying.”

MacDougall said in 2009 or 2010, he walked in on Kline and a parent “engaged in some type of inappropriate touching.” He said he later asked Kline about the incident and since the woman did not appear at school again, “I didn’t pursue the issue.”

In addition, MacDougall said he observed “overtly harassing behavior” with student-teachers.

Multiple attempts to reach MacDougall were unsuccessful.

Kline offers apology

In the pre-termination hearing notice sent to Kline, Regano said Kline’s termination was being pursued due to an investigation into inappropriate relations on school grounds and during school hours, possessing/maintaining inappropriate images on the district-issued computer and engaging in inappropriate behavior, including unwanted physical contact of a second person while she was enrolled as a student in the district.

In a letter dated May 21, 2018, Kline apologized for “my incredibly poor lapse in judgment in regards to Person A.”

“This was the worst mistake of my life,” Kline’s letter read. “When she contacted me on Facebook, it started out innocently, but then as things escalated, I did not make the correct choice to stop it. This is something that I am currently dealing with in my personal life, and will be for the foreseeable future. With that being said, I would never jeopardize my career by doing what Person A has alleged. I know that the messages paint a different picture, but I want you to know that I have contacted Facebook to try and retrieve all messages from the time in question, but they unfortunately cannot be obtained. To say that I regret having any contact with this person would be an understatement.”

He also wrote he had a student-teacher working with him during the hours Student A said she came to his office.

“I understand that the inappropriate picture and video on the computer are my responsibility. Please understand that the picture was totally unintentional, as I would never purposefully put that on a school laptop. As for the video, I still have no idea where it came from or how it was transferred onto my computer.”

In response to the allegations by Student B, he said in the letter, “This accusation breaks my heart due to the fact that my main focus is and has always been on creating a safe environment for learning. Had I known that she felt uncomfortable at all, I would have done everything in my power to correct any misperceptions that were taking place. I have never made inappropriate contact with any student. That is not who I am as a person or an educator. I have given everything I have to the Solon music program, and there is no way I would ever do what I am being accused of.”

He also listed precautions he would take should he continue to work at Solon.

“In regards to band officers making copies, I will never allow only one student at a time in the office or band room,” Kline wrote. “I will always require a witness, whether it be another student or staff member, to confirm appropriate behavior. I will also advise my colleagues to do the same. I am willing to put a video camera in the back part of the office and give up access to a school issued computer. I will do whatever it takes to regain your trust as an educator.”

Terms of separation agreement

Kline submitted his resignation June 12, 2018. The Solon Board of Education met the following day approving terms of his separation agreement in an executive session.

Bolden said in his email the school district was “unable to respond” to what led to Kline’s resignation rather than termination.

The separation agreement said Kline was free to seek employment elsewhere prior to Aug. 31, 2018, the date his resignation was effective as his contract as a continuing/tenured teacher extended to that date, Bolden said. He continued to receive income and health insurance benefits through that date, as teachers are paid in equal installments throughout the contract year. He was also to be paid out 37.5 days of his accumulated sick leave upon the effective date of his resignation.

The agreement also said inquiries from prospective employers should be directed to the superintendent, and information provided would be limited “only to Mr. Kline’s date of hire, date of separation, reason for separation being resignation for personal reasons following the district’s investigation into complaints by former students concerning Mr. Kline’s conduct, positions held and salary.” It detailed he would agree not to seek further employment with the Solon Board of Education.

The agreement also included the line, “Mr. Kline understands and acknowledges that he is receiving monies or other consideration that he would not otherwise be entitled to receive by entering into this agreement and agrees to the terms in this agreement knowingly and voluntarily.” When asked by the CJN, Bolden said he was unable to respond as to what Kline received.

License renewal sought

Regano reported Kline to ODE on June 21, 2018.

His report of educator misconduct said Kline resigned under the threat of termination, and/or “in the course of, an investigation regarding an act unbecoming the teaching profession or an offense described in Ohio Revised Code 3319.31 or 3319.39, and or the employee has engaged or may have engaged in conduct unbecoming to the teaching profession.”

Montana Wilson, administrative professional 2 at the Ohio Department of Education, on July 18, 2018, acknowledged receipt of Regano’s report.

On July 26, 2018, the ODE subpoenaed Solon’s investigation.

Kline applied to renew his teaching license Feb. 6, 2019, prior to its June 30, 2019 expiration. License renewals typically take 10 days, but Kline’s is still pending almost 18 months later.

“After a thorough review of the report, the department will be determining if action is warranted against Mr. Kline’s license,” Wilson wrote Regano on July 18, 2018.

A spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Education would not confirm or deny an investigation of Kline, citing state law.

Kline takes another job

Mauldin was named band director by the school to replace Kline. A news release regarding his appointment said Kline resigned.

About a year after resigning from Solon, Kline was hired by the College of Wooster in Wooster for a three-and-a half-month contract from Aug. 25, 2019, until Dec. 19, 2019, as an adjunct member of the teaching staff. His title was director of the Scot marching band. State teaching certification is not required for college positions.

Melissa Anderson, chief communications and marketing officer for Wooster, confirmed the college learned for the first time this June about the allegations regarding Kline.

“We are aware of the statements made by Solon High School and we’re looking into the situation currently,” she told the CJN.

She said he had worked on Wooster’s campus two afternoons per week for rehearsals and on Saturdays during the football games.

“He did not have an office on campus,” Anderson wrote in a June 9 email to the CJN.

Anderson said there have been no allegations of inappropriate conduct from students at Wooster, and that Kline did not reveal the reason he left Solon City School District. She said Wooster’s policy on hiring processes is confidential and she could not confirm whether Solon references were contacted or provided.

Bolden said he had not received any calls from prospective employers and was unaware of Regano being contacted.

Wooster will not rehire Kline, Anderson told the CJN.

Police seek victims

The debate that triggered the latest police investigation into Kline continues. Some of the online posts have been critical of the district’s handling of the investigation in 2018, alleging a cover up. At least two people who were employed by Solon schools at the time registered their surprise and dismay at the reason for Kline’s resignation on The Solon Soundboard.

As to the police investigation in Solon, two detectives are working on the case with Hofmann. He said he does not know whether additional victims will come forward.

On July 13, Solon police posted a message on its Facebook page that Mack, the administrator of The Solon Soundboard, reposted two hours later.

“The Solon Police Department Detective Bureau is conducting an investigation involving a former city of Solon teacher who had inappropriate interactions with students,” the post reads. “If any person feels that they may be a victim and/or witness to a situation of that nature, please reach out to Detective Linda Castro (440-337-1460, lcastro@solonohio.org) or Detective Kristi Harvey (440-337-1463, kharvey@solonohio.org). If you are a victim and do not want to be involved in the investigation, please know that you are still entitled to resources and/or services from the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center (216-619-6192, clevelandrapecrisis.org).”

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Hofmann said he hopes those affected come forward.

“We decided to reach out to these people,” Hofmann said. “I think we’d definitely have a good, stronger case if more of the victims came out, instead of waiting. ... I wish they would reach the police department now.”

The statute of limitations begins the moment a person remembers an incident, Hofmann said, adding that Solon police plan to do a thorough investigation.

“We have a lot of things to subpoena, a couple search warrants to execute,” he said. “There’s going to be some time.”

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