District 203 Board to decide teacher’s future amid allegations of improper contact with students

Following the conclusion of public comment, friends and supporters offered JaRon Dent hugs and words of encouragement.
(O’Fallon Weekly Photo by Nick Miller) 

 O’FALLON – The District 203 Board of Education heard an hour and a half of nearly unanimous praise for teacher and coach JaRon Dent, who has been on administrative leave for most of the past two months as the district performs an investigation, at their meeting Tuesday evening. 

While the school district declined to comment as to the nature of the investigation, documents and reports obtained by the Weekly from the O’Fallon Police Department though the Freedom of Information Act reveal that the investigation into Dent could revolve around allegations of improper conduct with and grooming of female students. 

According to the agenda for Tuesday night’s meeting, the Board had planned on possibly issuing disciplinary action onto Dent. However, at the start of the public portion of the meeting, Board President Lynda Cozad told the packed room that there would be no action taken regarding Dent that night. 

From there, a steady stream of colleagues, students, parents, and supporters stood and praised Dent as a kind and wonderful man, mentor, teacher, and coach. 

“I’m grateful to have known JaRon Dent, especially now when we have such a need for role models. I thank God for JaRon Dent,” said one supporter. 

“I was getting ready to drop out of school and he stopped me from being a pessimistic person to being an optimistic person. He’s more than just a teacher. We need him, I need him. Can’t you all see? It’s tearing me apart and imagine how many other kids it’s tearing apart. I can’t walk into that class and not see his face, that’s my motivation. He encourages me. If he doesn’t come back, I don’t come back,” a student said in a passionate speech.

However, there were some statements given by visitors that spoke less to his personal character and more to the allegations of improper conduct.

“I would like for the Board to do their job. This is not about a fight at school that was broken up, this is about inappropriate behavior. Touching girls, telling girls he would take their virginity, telling girls he was going to marry them, kissing girls in the coat room, sneaking around, giving them passes, all of that. I don’t know who these people here know, but the man I know is a full fledged predator in my book. He has no business doing what he did,” one woman said in her testimony.

Another person, who stated she was the aunt of a student that has spoke out against Dent, said she also is concerned by Dent and his alleged actions.

“My niece is who was harmed by Mr. Dent and I feel like the Board has a responsibility to her to make sure she’s safe at school. What happened to her is not pleasant and has caused her to miss school, to miss practice, to lose people she would call friends. She has been bullied as a result of telling the truth. He may have been a great influence on some of these other people, but the people at this school and in charge have a responsibility to every body to make sure they feel comfortable in class. At the end of the day, we’re all here to learn. But who would come forward to be met with boos and say anything against him? There’s no reason to say something like this about someone that is so loved. I just want you to think about what this cost the person who did come forward and made a compliant,” the alleged victim’s aunt told the Board. 

Dr. Dawn Porter, a frequent visitor at District 203 Board of Education meetings who urges the district to include more diversity when hiring teachers, said she hopes the Board doesn’t act too quickly when considering the fate of one of only two African-American teachers at OTHS.

“I’m not here to speak to the allegations that have been made, but I have had the opportunity to work with Mr. Dent in the past year and have seen the direct impact he has had on the students and community here at OTHS. In the few short weeks during his absence, there has been a noticeable void, not only in his classroom before, during, and after school, but in the enthusiasm and energy that was felt in that space. Students trust Mr. Dent because he takes the time to get to know them. He knows and understands their strengths because he cares for them,” Dr. Porter said. 

“As one of only two African-American teachers at OTHS, I encourage members of the Board to consider the nuances, cultural norms, communication styles, and socio-economic backgrounds and how they can lend themselves to understanding and interpreting situations. As they look to make a decision, I hope the decisions you make are in the best interests of all students,” Dr. Porter continued. 

The Board has tabled action against Dent and may possibly pick it back up at their May 23 meeting. 

The Investigation

According to police reports, on March 7, representatives of District 203 and School Resource Officer Brian Riggar met with a student they refer to as Student 1 and her mother. Student 1 reported inappropriate behavior by Dent. 

The report states that Student 1 said that she and another student, Student 4, hang out a lot and that on March 1 she flipped off Student 4 which was witnessed by Dent. She stated that Dent then smacked her on the butt in a disciplinary manner, but it made her feel uncomfortable. 

Additionally, Student 1 reported to police that Student 4 has told her and another student, Student 3, that Dent had kissed Student 4 one morning prior to school during the first semester. Student 1 also reported being in Dent’s classroom with other students after school for a Martin Luther King Club meeting in November 2018 and overhearing Dent tell Student 4 that she had “white stuff”, meaning crumbs, on her face and that it wasn’t from him.

Student 1 also alleges to have seen Dent grab Student 4 by the breast and squeeze it for discipline and that Student 4 had told her that Dent will “take her virginity when she turns 18 years old, or possible when she turns 16 in approximately six weeks.”

Finally, Student 1 reported that Dent has asked for her to take pictures with him to make Student 4 jealous and that Student 4 is jealous whenever another student, Student 2, is around Dent.

The report states that following the interview with Student 1, the district officials and police met with Student 2 who reported that Dent allegedly often put his arms around students and that he refers to female students as “Baby”. Student 2 stated that she had allegedly seen Dent grab Student 4’s butt and that she had seen Dent and Student 4 in the hallways with Dent having his arm around Student 4 and Student 4 holding onto his hand. She also reported that Dent had asked her to take a picture with him to send to Student 4 to make her jealous.

Following this interview, district officials and police met with Student 3, who reported that she had observed Student 4 grab Dent’s butt on multiple occasions and that Student 4 and Dent text frequently using terms of affection and heart emoji’s.

At this point, the report states that OTHS Administration met with Dent, who denied all wrong doing and was placed on administrative leave. The police requested consent from Dent to search his cellular phone, and while Dent initially requested some time to think about it, the police later heard from Dent’s union representative, Mike Day, that Dent would not be consenting to a search of his phone.

District officials and police met with Student 4 who denied anything inappropriate between her and Dent. Student 4 does text with Dent and she did admit to hugging Dent. Dent also provides her with passes to come to his room during lunch and advisory period. 

Student 4’s father provided the O’Fallon Police access to his daughter’s phone. The phone revealed that Student 4 does have Dent saved as a contact and that there are numerous photos of Dent with her that appear to be taken at OTHS. Additionally, there are multiple photos of just Dent.

Police also found two screenshots of messages between Student 4 and Dent. In both messages, Dent refers to Student 4 as “Baby” and in one they both tell each other “Love you.” All text messages between Student 4 and Dent have been deleted and could not be recovered by O’Fallon PD. 

When asked by the police, Student 4 allegedly stated that she frequently deletes text messages as a way to preserve data storage on her phone and that she did not delete any messages between she and Dent on or after March 7, when the investigation began.

Video surveillance has been reviewed by District 203 and Dent is seen on numerous occasions walking through the hallways of the school with his arm around Student 4. The police report noted that “such observed contact is outside the normal teacher/student relationship.”

The O’Fallon Police interviewed Student 4 again on March 11 and she again denied anything inappropriate had occurred between she and Dent. She described Dent as a mentor. She denied kissing and that he has grabbed her inappropriately or that he grabbed her butt. She did state they often play around and will play fight and that they do text each other a couple of times a week. Student 4 stated they are close and both will say they “Love you” to the other one as a term of endearment.

Student 4 did confirm that Dent smacked Student 1 on the butt, however she said it was with a binder he was holding. 

On March 15, the police sought out Dent for further questions. After locating him they asked if he would come into the station to speak. Dent said he would come in but wanted to drive himself, so he followed the officer back to the Public Safety Building. However, when they arrived, Dent immediately stated upon getting out of his car that he was advised by his attorney to not make a statement and that he wouldn’t enter the building. Dent did not wish to give his attorney’s name to the police. 

The O’Fallon Police Department’s investigation effectively stopped when two St. Clair County Assistant State Attorney’s Elizabeth Nester and Bernadette Schrempp declined a search warrant for records from Dent’s phone. Both said that while Dent’s actions were inappropriate, they did not feel his actions rose to the level of a criminal offense.

The department has closed the investigation, however they state in their report that it can be reopened if other evidence is produced.

The Illinois Department of Child and Family Services is conducting their own investigation into the allegations against Dent.