Lakota teacher suspended for inappropriate communication with students

George C. Merk, 41, of Loveland, was placed on a 10-day unpaid suspension in March 2012 following an internal investigation by school officials. He has since been approved for teaching math in the 2013-14 school year at a salary of $66,173.

During a conference with district staff on Jan. 11, 2012, Merk reportedly admitted to:

  • having text message communication with students regarding sexual orientation, first sexual experiences and other personal issues
  • failing to report a student was bullied
  • providing a student with his cell phone number through a Facebook message
  • posting Facebook statuses about students’ academic levels and disparaging Lakota West High School administration
  • receiving a text message from a student offering to buy him an iPad
  • denying having received a picture of a condom box in a text message from a student.

“This behavior is unacceptable and will not be tolerated by Lakota Local School District employees,” wrote Superintendent Karen Mantia in a formal reprimand from Feb. 15, 2012. “Mr. Merk, your actions described above were insubordinate, deceitful, unacceptable and unprofessional.”

The district then submitted a report to the Ohio Department of Education’s Office of Professional Conduct. As part of the investigation, Merk entered into a consent agreement — dated June 26, 2013 — with ODE that outlines several stipulations.

The terms of the agreement include:

  • Merk’s five-year teaching license being suspended for 45 days, from June 12 through July 26
  • detailed reports on Merk’s conduct will be submitted to ODE every three months for two years
  • completing 24 hours of training on appropriate teacher-student boundaries
  • not communicating with current students using Facebook, text messages and other electronic means.

Merk’s attorney, Julie C. Ford, of the Dayton firm Doll, Jansen, Ford & Rakay, said her client fully cooperated with the investigation by ODE.

“Mr. Merk was not accused of having a sexual or otherwise inappropriate relationship with any students; at most, the school district concluded he had discussed topics that might have been considered inappropriate,” Ford said.

The investigation ended last December, but a proposed penalty wasn’t reached until the end of the 2012-13 academic year, she said.

Ford said her client didn’t attempt to negotiate a lesser penalty or go through a full hearing process before his current teaching and principal’s licenses were to expire at the end of June.

“He therefore signed the consent agreement not because he was guilty of any wrongdoing but only to put this matter behind him and to avoid any delays in the renewals of his licenses,” Ford said. “Mr. Merk continues to be a model teacher and employee at Lakota. Mr. Merk looks forward to resuming his teaching work in the fall.”

Merk joined the Lakota teaching staff in 2002, after six years teaching at Wilmington City Schools. Merk’s personnel file at Lakota doesn’t include any other disciplinary or performance issues.

“Mr. Merk is an outstanding teacher who takes great pride in his profession,” reads an evaluation dated May 16, 2013. “He goes above and beyond the district’s expectations, and his students are successful as the result of his efforts in the classroom.”

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