Montana education officials have permanently revoked the teaching license of a former sixth-grade English teacher at Ronan Middle School accused of having a relationship with a high school student.
In a Montana Board of Public Education hearing on Nov. 9, the board revoked Zachary Rowan's teaching license. Rowan was an English teacher and boys basketball coach whose license was taken away for allegedly having a relationship with a senior at Ronan High School on the girls basketball team.
At the hearing, Ronan school administrators said Rowan did not admit to the relationship but submitted a one-sentence letter of resignation following the discovery of a journal in Rowan’s desk that detailed the relationship, and prompted a Title IX investigation from the district.
The Title IX investigation found that there was sufficient evidence to believe that Rowan engaged in a sexual relationship with a student in the district.
Ryan Wells, an assistant principal at Hamilton High School who previously served as the vice principal of Ronan Middle School where Rowan taught, said at the hearing that another teacher told him of the allegations.
Wells said the teacher asked to have a meeting with him and Sandra Beal, the principal of Ronan Middle School and the district’s Title IX coordinator. At the meeting, the teacher said that a student informed her that Rowan was having a sexual relationship with a student on the basketball team.
Wells then contacted Ronan Superintendent Mark Johnston, high school administrators and another teacher who had some information.
“The student told the teachers that the female basketball player said there was a sexual relationship occurring and that there were text messages and a journal detailing some of the intimate pieces of the relationship,” Wells said at the hearing. “Based on that somebody was bringing this report to us, we felt that we had to open up a Title IX investigation to see if there was merit to the allegation.”
The administrators then discussed plans to find a substitute for the following day and Wells went to Rowan’s classroom to look for lesson plans he had written. As Wells was looking through Rowan’s desk, he found a black notebook in a drawer that appeared to be the one described by the student.
The journal contained the names of country musicians and song lyrics at the bottom of entries as described by the student who confided in teachers.
Wells said that he felt that Rowan was writing about the student and was worried that rumors of the relationship were true. He brought the journal to the school’s front office as the superintendent was coming back from giving Rowan a letter of suspension.
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“He was overwhelmed, I guess would be a good word,” Johnston said at the hearing. “He was looking at me and saying ‘Oh, my God; oh, my God. I think I found what they’re talking about.’”
Administrators turned the journal over to Beal for the Title IX investigation. Johnston said that Rowan submitted a one-sentence letter of resignation the day after the journal was discovered.
Johnston said the student involved did not admit to the relationship when confronted. Initially, her parents denied the relationship, too. Johnston said the girl’s father said he knew about the relationship but didn’t know he had to say anything because she was 18. The mother, who works for the district, also said she knew of the relationship and asked if her job was in jeopardy. At the hearing, Johnston also said that Rowan is living with the student's father while she is at college.
It was not the first time that the alleged relationship was brought up to administrators, according to Wells, who said there were rumors of the relationship circulating in the spring of 2017.
“There was no report but there had been some rumors that appeared to be malicious at the time and we had discussed the need for him to make sure that he is not alone with the student, that he does not have any private contact and doesn’t exchange any text messages, you know, just the basic guidelines,” Wells said at the hearing.
Because the age of consent in Montana is 16 and the student involved in the relationship with Rowan was 17 at the time the relationship reportedly started, the school was not required to contact law enforcement.
Currently, it is not a criminal offense for an educator to have a relationship with a student.
“In the upcoming legislative session, we are looking at making it a criminal offense for an educator to have a sexual relationship with that student regardless of the age of the student because educators are in a position of trust,” OPI communications director Dylan Klapmeier told the Missoulian.
A teacher can, however, have their license revoked if they engage in "immoral" conduct.
Johnston did not immediately respond to a request for comment.