No criminal charges for former CHS art teacher

OPI will decide whether or not to pull teaching license
Thursday, August 4, 2022
No criminal charges for former CHS art teacher

The former Columbus High School art teacher who was suspended last spring pending an investigation for allegedly showing students inappropriate material will not face criminal charges.

The matter involved the now-former teacher and a book of graphic drawings — some of which included sex acts — that was shown to a small group of students.

Columbus City Prosecutor Ryan Addis told the News he reviewed the entire investigative file submitted by Columbus Police Chief Gary Timm in making the decision to not prosecute.

“Without reviewing too many details or specifics, Chief Timm’s investigation determined that Michael Barrett disseminated a book containing graphic, non-color drawings (a few of which depicted sex acts) to three or four students at the Columbus schools. The book is published and available online for purchase on several websites, including Amazon. Chief Timm interviewed three of the four students (the fourth declined to be interviewed) and further determined that each student briefly flipped through the drawings and then returned the book to Mr. Barrett.

Of the three students that were interviewed, each of them had different reactions to the drawings ranging from them being ‘artistic’ to ‘disturbing’,” said Addis.

Misdemeanor Obscenity was the charge being considered in the case.

“The obscenity statute, in a nutshell, criminalizes an adult who purposely or knowingly disseminates any ‘obscene’ materials to someone under 18 years of age. The term ‘obscene’ does include any representation or description of ultimate sexual acts, which was present in the subject book,” said Addis. “However, for material to be considered ‘obscene,’ it must also lack any serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value. One of the key issues in this case is proving beyond a reasonable doubt that this book, which is published and available for purchase online by anyone regardless of age, lacks any literary or artistic value.”

Addis also said that his decision was based solely on the legal analysis and conclusion that he likely could not prove all the elements of obscenity beyond a reasonable doubt.

“In declining to prosecute this case, I am not opining whether (the teacher) acted appropriately or not in showing this book to his students,” said Addis.

Addis also met with the parents of the students involved to explain his decision.

The Office of Public Instruction is currently conducting its own investigation into the matter.

“It will be up to the Montana Office of Public Instruction in determining whether this situation with Mr. Barrett warrants the removal of his teaching license,” Columbus Schools Superintendent Jeff Bermes told the News this week.

Barrett was in his first year and left the employment of the district within days of being suspended. Bermes released Barrett’s name this week.

THE CASE

In late April, Barrett was escorted from the school grounds and placed on administrative leave by the school district pending an investigation into “allegations of inappropriate material being given to students,” according to Columbus School Superintendent Bermes.

The following day, April 28, the Columbus Police Department was notified of the situation and launched an investigation. The official call for service from the Stillwater County Sheriff Dispatch log listed the call as “Investigation of reported obscenity.”

By the end of the day on April 28, Barrett had resigned.

At that point, neither the school district nor police had named the teacher on the advice of legal council.

Parents were notified of the matter on May 2 through the district’s app as follows:

“On Wednesday, April 27, the District was made aware of a situation that occurred at the end of the day on Tuesday, April 26, in an art class with the use of inappropriate and unapproved content material provided to a select number of students. The material was that of a book of drawings. No other inappropriate matter has been discovered.”

Barrett was immediately placed on administrative leave and had no contact with students after the incident. All information the school had gathered was turned over to law enforcement and the Office of Public Instruction. The district told parents that it was “taking all steps to make sure that this situation is handled properly and that your students are safe.”

Bermes said that parents were not notified until then because he was not “at liberty to provide information regarding the case to protect individual rights. Once those matters were handled the district was able to provide a statement of the incident...”

Bermes also stated the district had to be sure that the incident report was accurate before moving forward.

This week, Bermes told the News that the district stands by its original statement and that it was in the hands of the City Attorney to determine if any laws were broken in this situation.