Pickerington Schools: Central teacher resigns after sexual-harassment investigation

Nate Ellis
ThisWeek group
Pickerington Schools

A Pickerington High School Central art teacher resigned last month after an investigation determined he violated the district's anti-harassment policy. 

On Oct. 12, the Pickerington school board voted 4-1 to accept the resignation of Craig Huffman, an art teacher at Central since the 2002-03 school year.  

A review of Huffman’s employee personnel file with Pickerington Schools showed his resignation came after an investigator by the Franklin County Educational Service Center on Sept. 25 found the former teacher sexually harassed six current and former female students within the scope of his work as an art teacher and through his role as an adviser for the Central leadership club, Sunny Side Up. 

Huffman, 50, could not be reached directly but through a third party, declined a request to be interviewed by ThisWeek Pickerington Times-Sun

According to his personnel file, Janice Collette of the Franklin County ESC investigated the matter on behalf of the district by interviewing eight students and 19 witnesses, including parents and district staff, teachers and administrators. 

Her report stated she "recommends to the Superintendent that Mr. Huffman sexually harassed six current and former female students within the scope of his duties as a PHSC Art Teacher and Sunny-Up Advisor during his employment in the Pickerington Local School District." 

Huffman came under review after current and former female students last spring said in social-media posts he had touched them in ways that made them uncomfortable, including allegations he repeatedly had touched one girl’s thighs and back after she asked him to move away and that he had stroked another girl’s face “for a very uncomfortable amount of time in front of the whole class.” 

“Multiple female students from different programs and years of attendance, including previous graduates, described similar behaviors regarding Mr. Huffman, including touching, hugging, hugging front-to-front, hugging too long, stroking their hair, massaging their shoulders, asking students for their phone numbers, inviting them to attend Life Time Fitness outside the school day, etc.,” Collette stated in her report. “Investigator finds these students to be credible because the students described Mr. Huffman’s similar behaviors, and many students had no relationship to one another.” 

Collette said Huffman’s actions violated the district’s anti-harassment policy. She said the harassment included questioning a student about why she felt uncomfortable with him after the student’s mother had asked that Huffman have no contact with her daughter at an SSU retreat, and allegedly stroking and playing with another student’s hair, as well as asking for her telephone number so they could share recipes. 

The investigator also alleged Huffman put his arm around a female student at an SSU retreat and hugged her front-to-front, saying to another student, “Is it hot in here or just you?” and soliciting the phone number of a student whom he’d invited to take part in a Jazzercise class from another student. 

Huffman, who was to receive a $95,402 salary this year, was placed on paid leave Aug. 10 while the investigation continued. 

Although Collette found Huffman violated the district’s anti-harassment policy, Fairfield County Child Protective Services determined allegations of sexual abuse by one female student were unsubstantiated. 

In an Aug. 4 letter to the district, Marea Bigham, Fairfield County Child Protective Services family-preservation supervisor, and Rachael Briggs, a family-preservation caseworker for the agency, wrote, "Protective Services were able to gather information through the investigation which create concern for Mr. Huffman’s behaviors towards (student name redacted) in his role as a licensed educator. At this time, however, the concerns do not meet the definition of sexual conduct or sexual contact, as there is no information or evidence available to suggest Mr. Huffman’s actions were for the purposes of sexual gratification.” 

Huffman also received a letter of reprimand in November 2012 from Zack Howard, then principal at Central, for “placing his hands on students,” allegedly massaging a female student’s shoulders outside of normal school hours in his classroom. 

As a result, Huffman was removed from his adviser’s role with SSU for the 2012-13 school year, and Howard warned him in the letter of reprimand to “never touch a student for any reason other than an emergency situation. That includes massaging, rubbing or hugging students.” 

Howard, now a Pickerington Schools assistant superintendent and chief administrative officer, said the district initiated an investigation of Huffman swiftly upon learning of the students’ social media posts. 

Howard added no other complaints had been made against Huffman since his 2012 reprimand. 

“There were no reported allegations of inappropriate behavior regarding Mr. Huffman to the building administration or the (Pickerington Schools) office between the dates of November 2012 and the summer of 2020, when the social-media allegations surfaced and the district hired an independent investigator to investigate the multiple allegations,” Howard said. 

Although the Ohio Department of Education wouldn’t confirm if it has started an investigation, Huffman’s personnel file with the district shows the ODE issued a subpoena July 30 for his personnel, disciplinary and investigative files. 

According to the ODE website, Huffman remains licensed to teach in Ohio. 

The lone Pickerington school board member to vote against accepting Huffman’s resignation was Vanessa Niekamp, who said firing him would be better than letting him resign.  

She said she wanted the affected students to know someone has acknowledged the effect his actions have had on them and terminating Huffman potentially would help keep other students safe. 

“Based on the requested findings of him having sexually harassed students, I felt it would have been more appropriate to remove him rather than accept a resignation,” Niekamp said. “If it would be reported as that (a resignation), any future employers would have to ask for his personnel file to be aware of that. 

“With the termination, it would be clear that there was a problem in this district. I just wanted to do what was safest for all the students in the state of Ohio.” 

nellis@thisweeknews.com 

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