Teacher fired for relationship with student now running for school board

Fired teacher wants school board job
Fired teacher faces public
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A teacher fired for an inappropriate relationship with a student now wants a seat on the board of education that fired him.

Forty-five-year-old Mark Bollinger was not charged with a crime, but investigators say he groomed and preyed upon a female student. He admitted to having sex with her after she graduated.

Two years after being fired, he's asking voters in to put him back in the education business.

Mark Bollinger's 18-year career with River Valley Local Schools came to an end in July 2015, when he was fired for conduct unbecoming a teacher.

It began with text messages to an 19 year old senior. An investigation by an attorney hired by the school district found "From the beginning of his contacts with her, Bollinger flirted with her and groomed her in an obviously sexual pursuit."

"Bollinger professed jealousy of boys who were around (her), told her repeatedly that he loved and 'wanted' her, pulled her out of classes and texted her during class periods when he should have been teaching," the investigative report concluded.

The student graduated in May 2015, but says her "make out" sessions with Bollinger began before that.

He admitted the two went on to have a sexual relationship a few months later, during her freshman year in college.

The report concludes, "short of molesting or physically abusing a student, it was hard to imagine a more serious case of teacher misconduct."

"The board unanimously decided to agree with the superintendent's recommendation for termination," said Brian Stover, President of the River Valley School Board.

Though the Sheriff's Office found Bollinger's actions weren't criminal, Stover says they clearly violated district policy.

"You have someone who used their position to gain leverage for personal gain over a young person," he said.

He hoped Bollinger's firing would close an ugly chapter for this school community. That is until this summer, when Bollinger announced his candidacy for school board.

"It made me sick. Made me sick to my stomach. I feel for the community. I feel for the student involved, I feel for his family," Stover said.

In a phone conversation with 10TV, River Valley Superintendent of Schools Jim Peterson questioned Bollinger's motives in trying to get a seat on the board that fired him, a concern shared by Stover.

"Do you have a personal agenda?" asked Stover. "Are you running because you want to do what's best for the students in River Valley? If that was the case, why didn't you do that when you were employed by River Valley?"

The Attorney General's Office has recommended the State Board of Education revoke Bollinger's teaching license and permanently bar him from any job that requires one.

The state has not yet ruled on that recommendation.

In a written statement to 10TV, Mark Bollinger said:

"I am running for the River Valley Local School board in hopes of bringing transparency and accountability to the district. With three children in the school system and having spent over 20 years teaching and coaching at RV, as well as coaching in the youth organizations for over 10 years, I am as invested as anyone in the River Valley community. Recent test scores for our high school and feedback from recent graduates show we are sending our young men and women into the world unprepared. That is not acceptable. River Valley High School met only 38% of the state indicators, which placed us seventh of the eight schools that participate in our athletic conference. The six schools ahead of us were all over 10% points higher than us and one school almost doubled our score. For a district which has always taken great pride in our academic successes, that is unacceptable. River Valley has some outstanding teachers and administrators. We need more of those individuals in our district. We need our administration, faculty, students, and community to be held accountable. We need to praise and reward those responsible for our successes and find a solution for those responsible for the shortcomings.

My termination from River Valley is being made an issue by individuals who are opposed or scared of complete transparency. The truth is a powerful thing. My friends and family will tell you I have always planned to run for school board after I finished my teaching career at River Valley. I have hundreds of former students and parents who would tell you I have always had the students best interest at heart. A lack of consistency in the enforcement of district policies, serious incidents being covered up or ignored, blatant favoritism (sic) and a general lack of accountability are serious issues we need to fix at River Valley. Those issues directly impact our students and the success of the district.

The student involved in my termination was my then 19 year old neighbor who I never had in class as a student, as a player on a team, or in any capacity.

With that being said, if elected, I will be a public servant, paid by taxpayer money and voted in by the residents of this district. For those who have questioned my character and want to make it an issue in this election, I respect your right to an opinion. However, you should know all the facts before you form an opinion. I will gladly participate in an open discussion about all of our private lives/character. We can discuss the private lives of our current Board President, other River Valley Board members and the other school board candidates. We can talk about the character and personal life of our Superintendent and our school administrators, teachers, and any other public servants we pay with taxpayer money. I have nothing to hide."