Roane County High School teacher suspended over allegations that date back nearly two decades

West Virginia

According to a 21-page suspension order signed by Steven L. Paine, the State Superintendent of Schools, a Roane County High School science teacher has been suspended for one year.

According to the order, Michael L. Burch possesses permanent professional teaching certificates in physics, chemistry, and general science.

He teaches at Roane County High School.  Burch, the order states, taught at Huntington High School in the early 1990’s, Winfield High School from 1994-2000, Poca High School from 2000-2003, Spencer Middle School from 2003-2004, and Gilmer High School for about six weeks in 2004.

A position then opened at Roane County High School, and at that point, Burch left Gilmer County for Roane County.

The petitioner, who is listed as the West Virginia Department of Education, contends, according to the order, that Burch has engaged in a practice of making inappropriate comments during class time, usually of a sexual nature, and inappropriate touching of students for which, he has been suspended four times: September of 1999, November or 2011, January 10, 2017 and October of 2017.

The first incident occurred at Winfield High School in 1999.  Burch was accused of touching a student on her back while she was “bent over”, spitting her gum out.  Burch was suspended by the then-superintendent for two days without pay. 

The female who claimed she was touch by Burch said she was retaliated against by Burch the rest of the school year.  The girl added that Burch made inappropriate sexual comments and sprayed the shirt of a female student with water on another occasion. She added that when she attempted to report Burch to school officials, no action was taken.

Burch, the order states, left Winfield High School for Poca High School for the 2002-2003 school year.  He left Putnam County Schools in September of 2003 to teach middle school in Roane County.

When the girl’s father learned that Burch had applied to Roane County Schools, he raised objections to the Board of Education. According to the paperwork, Burch called that father and asked him to stop his efforts.  The girl’s father did not stop his efforts, and went on to attend at least one Board meeting and speaking out.

When the student learned of Burch’s arrest for battery in 2017, the order states that she was relieved that someone was actually doing something about his behavior. She then learned that the charge was dismissed, so she wrote a letter to the Magistrate in the case expressing her concern and disappointment.

The order then moves to Roane County allegations from 2011.

On November 2, 2011, students in Burch’s chemistry class at Roane County High School said he showed the class a photo of a nudist colony. As a result, Burch was given a five day suspension. 

The order then references an incident that occurred in December of 2016. 

Burch was investigated for allegedly “holding a female student’s scarf and pulling it above her head in a mock choking gesture.”  Burch was suspended for ten days without pay for this incident, the order states.

In October of 2017, a student said Burch “placed his hands around her throat under circumstances that made her uncomfortable.” A balloon that was being used as part of a science lesson was popped by someone.  Burch asked, ‘Why did you pop my balloon?’ and moved toward the student with his hands outstretched.

Burch was suspended for ten days without pay for that incident, according to the order.

On November 3, an arrest warrant was obtained for Burch for one count of battery in connection with the incident in October.  That charge was dismissed after Burch rejected a plea deal, according to the order.

During a hearing regarding the incidents, a female student that attended Roane County High School from 2014-2018 testified to a number of inappropriate incidents, both physical and verbal.

The ‘discussion’ portion of the order goes on to read:

“In this case it is alleged that Michael L. Burch, a continuously employed 26 year veteran teacher of several schools in WV, engaged in immoral conduct spanning over nearly two decades with a rational nexus to his teaching position by using aggressive physical behavior with students, displaying unwanted attention on female students and behaviors that made them uncomfortable, and making sexually suggestive comments and other inappropriate comments in class, despite multiple suspensions.”

Woods is listed as the designee in the matter.  Her recommendations include:

  1. Burch’s teaching certificates are to be suspended for one year
  2. Burch must take 40 hours of professional development training
  3. Burch is responsible for coordinating the training
  4. Burch must apply for reinstatement of his certificates after the passage of one year

At the time of publication, Burch is still listed as a teacher on the school’s website. 

We have reached out to West Virginia’s State Superintendent of Schools Steven L. Paine, and Michael Burch, at this point, we have not received a response.

Stay with 13 News for more on this developing story.

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