The drama surrounding the possible termination of Fairmont High School teacher Michael Togliatti’s teaching contract continued at the Aug. 2 Kettering Board of Education meeting. Months after Togliatti was removed from the classroom for what the district later called “unprofessional and disrespectful conduct toward students,” many of the nearly 80 students, teachers, parents and media at the meeting expected a final decision on the English teacher’s future.
Instead, the board voted 5-0 to “consider the termination” of Togliatti’s contract and suspend him “without pay or other fringe benefits pending action to terminate.” Since Togliatti’s removal on April 18, he had been on paid administrative leave.
The action means the district’s portion of the investigation of Togliatti is over. “Now the state of Ohio will appoint a hearing officer who will conduct his own investigation and make a recommendation to us,” said Jim Justice, the district’s director of human resource services. Both Togliatti and the school board must approve the selected hearing officer.
Under the Ohio Revised Code, Togliatti is entitled to a public hearing in which the board will determine whether or not to terminate his contract, but that will happen after the State Board of Education’s investigation, which, as Justice says, “could take months.”
After a student complained about Togliatti’s behavior last spring, administrators began calling in other students and compiling statements. Justice said that when the district finishes an investigation, “we take any actions we think necessary.” On April 18, the district removed Togliatti from the classroom and placed him on administrative leave. “The action we took was to protect our students,” said Justice.
A July 8 letter from Justice to Togliatti detailed the accusations, alleging the use of repeated profanity, degrading language toward students, and ridicule of other teachers and administration members.
After the initial news of his suspension, some Fairmont students began a campaign to raise support for Togliatti. Senior John Parrott played a leadership role in the effort, collecting about 250 signatures from students in Togliatti’s advisory and English classes who disagreed with the disciplinary action. Toward the end of the year, the outcries became louder.
“After much debating with the principals, we were given one day of protest where people were allowed to wear a shirt or a duct tape badge – as many chose to wear – saying, ‘We support our English teachers,’” said Parrott.
The Facebook group “Togliatti is an amazing teacher!” has amassed about 140 followers and continues to buzz with comments of outrage about the Aug. 2 decision and support for the teacher.
Contacted at home by phone on Aug. 4, Togliatti said he could not comment on the investigation or the board’s decision. “I’m touched by the students’ efforts and the outpouring of support. It means a lot to me,” said Togliatti.
Many came to the Tuesday school board meeting expecting to support Togliatti in what they thought would be his public hearing. Instead, they participated in a public forum on the issue. Several faculty members, many from the Fairmont English Department, attended along with dozens of students. Some wore shirts reading “Breng Tog Bak” (intentionally misspelled to comment on the effects of losing English teachers). Crowd members cast each other nervous looks when the board members voted to go into executive session at 7 p.m.
At 7:31, the board returned and opened the floor to the public regarding the termination. But before the first speaker, School Board President Julie Gilmore announced that board policy limits speakers to 5 minutes each and forbids board members from commenting during the hearing. “We’re here to listen to what you have to say,” said Gilmore.
Over the next half hour, 13 students, parents and teachers took the podium to express their support for Togliatti. Some know him as a teacher, a colleague or a friend. Former and current students of Togliatti who spoke included Parrott, Noelle Loberg, Anne Marie Cardilino, Cassie Costello, Hannah Kichline, Jamie Demmitt and Jennifer Anderson.
“[Togliatti] doesn’t sugarcoat anything,” Loberg noted, but added that he encouraged her in the classroom. “I had never been that motivated to work in my life.”
Jim Williams, who retired a year ago from a guidance counselor position, said he is “absolutely certain that this board of education would be making a serious mistake if they follow through with this termination.”
Williams added that it was “no secret” that personality conflicts existed between members of the administration and Togliatti. “Is that the reason to terminate an excellent teacher?” Williams asked of the board. “You know it’s not.”
Amid the storm of rumors, Williams urged the board to focus on what he called “the facts,” which he said were that “these accusations are based on a disgruntled student who was caught cheating. Mike Togliatti’s administrative evaluations have always been excellent [and] 99.7 percent of Mike Togliatti’s students passed the Ohio Graduation Test.”
Jennifer Anderson, a former student, said she “could talk to [Togliatti] about anything.” Her mother, Viki, called him “the kind of teacher you want your children to experience.”
When all who had signed up to speak had their time to do so, the board unanimously approved the items on the agenda, which included the resolution regarding Togliatti, then moved to other items and adjourned at 8:10. Many walked out of the Recital Hall with little idea of what really was decided – some were convinced he had been fired, while others weren’t so sure.
In fact, the investigation is far from finished, and the fate of a teacher’s career still hangs in the air. Until then, both sides expect to dig in for the long haul.
The students who support Togliatti say they’re not ready to abandon him. “One of our ideas is to hold a protest outside the school to show we are still trying to support Mr. Togliatti and hope that he comes back,” said Parrott.
Rebecca Templeton-Owens, the new president of the Kettering Education Association (a position Togliatti held several years ago), attended the meeting. She said the KEA was kept fairly “out of the loop” on the details of the case for the privacy of those involved.
“That’s not typical,” said Diane Tieman, a local representative of the Ohio Education Association. “We have a very good working relationship with the administration, so this is unusual.”