By Bill Turque
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 10, 2010; B07
Staff at a D.C. high school suspected that a teacher was having sex with an emotionally disturbed student in his darkened classroom but did nothing to stop the encounters that led to her pregnancy, according to a lawsuit filed by the student in U.S. District Court this week.
Ayanna Blue, 20, a senior at Shadd Transition Academy in Southeast Washington, said in the suit that paternity tests show a better than 99 percent probability that Robert Weismiller, 58, a teacher until he was laid off in October, is the father of her daughter born Nov. 28, 2009.
The suit also alleges that Weismiller, who has worked in public and charter schools in Virginia and the District, "has had inappropriate relationships with other students in the past."
Weismiller, who reportedly lives in Ocean City, did not return a cellphone message Thursday.
The suit alleges that he met Blue when she was a student in his class and began a five-month relationship with her in fall 2008, having sex with her in his classroom and car. The suit quotes Weismiller as telling Blue, then 18, "If I was 30 years younger, I would marry you."
It was not until May last year, when Blue reported to school officials that she was pregnant, that an investigation began, the suit alleges. It cites five staff members who told investigators that they had either seen Weismiller alone with Blue in his classroom or had heard rumors that the two were having a sexual relationship.
They include an educational aide who said that Blue would enter Weismiller's classroom when he took other students to lunch and that he saw her there up to four times a day. A clinical psychologist said that Blue would "frequently visit" Weismiller's classroom and that he'd see them there with the lights off.
Scott Gilbert, Blue's attorney, said the District failed his client by enabling continued exposure to a sexual predator.
"It's an utter disgrace, from top to bottom," he said. "She received no help, of any kind, from the school. They were very good at sitting on their hands."
Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee denied the allegations and said Thursday that the school system acted in a timely and responsible manner. She said Shadd officials first learned of the relationship from a teacher and acted promptly to remove Weismiller from the classroom.
Weismiller was placed on administrative leave May 5, 2009, and the allegations were reported to D.C. police. But Rhee said that because Blue was 18, the matter was referred to school system investigators. Rhee said staff statements cited in the suit did not offer definitive proof that Weismiller and Blue were having an intimate relationship. With Weismiller denying his guilt, the situation became "a he said, she said."
Although the suit says that Weismiller was cleared of misconduct, Rhee said that is not true. She said the matter was kept open until a paternity test could prove that he was the father.
Before the test could be done, Weismiller was laid off in October, one of more than 200 D.C. teachers laid off because of what Rhee described as a budget crunch. Rhee referred to Weismiller -- but did not name him -- in an interview published in the February edition of Fast Company magazine. In discussing her justification for the layoffs, she said she "got rid of teachers who had hit children, who had had sex with children."
The comments triggered a firestorm of criticism, and Rhee later sought to clarify them by saying that only one was alleged to have had a sexual relationship. She was referring to Weismiller.
Rhee said Thursday that the school system was bound by a "criminal standard" of proof and that had Weismiller been fired as a result of the investigation, the action would have been "overturned in a heartbeat."
"This is the unfortunate thing. I believe in innocent until proven guilty, but that [at] the same time in cases like this, from a parent's point of view, we want to say, better safe than sorry," she said.
Under the terms of the District's contract with the Washington Teachers' Union, teachers laid off last fall are eligible to receive retroactive pay covering about three years that they worked without a raise. Rhee said the District has no choice but to pay Weismiller.
The District is scheduled to send out checks this weekend.
"Sad but true," she said.
Rhee spokewoman Jennifer Calloway later said in an e-mail that the District was exploring its legal options about paying Weismiller "in light of the conduct that has been alleged."
The lawsuit said Blue, who is repeating her senior year at Shadd, continues to suffer emotionally and financially, having been forced to move out of her mother's house and live in transitional housing. She fears she could end up homeless. It also says Weismiller still calls her.
The suit, which seeks unspecified monetary damages against Rhee, D.C. schools and Weismiller, depicts a chaotic and dangerous atmosphere at Shadd during the 2008-09 school year. A special education consultant, Monique Bass, said frequent outbreaks of violence and lack of control in classrooms make the school "unsafe for any student and a breeding ground for lawsuits."