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2 former students suing Salem-Keizer school district, teacher for $10M

By Paulina Aguilar

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    KEIZER, Oregon (KPTV) — Two former high school students in Salem-Keizer Public Schools are suing the district after claiming they were sexually abused by a former teacher.

Salem-Keizer Public Schools said four different organizations, including law enforcement, conducted investigations into Joshua Rist regarding two separate alleged incidents from 2015 to 2020. He was not criminally charged in any of them.

The two former students are suing the school district for sexual abuse for $10 million and accused Rist of battery, negligence and sexual abuse of a child.

“Based on what I know today I do not believe Mr. Rist should be allowed to serve students in the Salem-Keizer school district or anywhere else,” said Salem-Keizer superintendent Andrea Castaneda.

In 2018, the school district received a complaint of possible misconduct by Rist at McNary High School. After a complete investigation, the district said the issue was addressed.

In 2021, the former students reported inappropriate behavior to the district. Court documents said the two students claimed the choir teacher expressed flattery, communicated via text, and even met with them off school grounds. Rist was later placed on administrative leave.

After multiple investigations, Teachers Standards and Practices Commission dismissed any sexual conduct and Rist returned to work in August 2022, this time at Kalapuya Elementary School.

In February a new sexual conduct investigation opened, TSPC dismissed sexual conduct allegations and in June, Rist was put on a 60-day suspension. That is when the two students filed a lawsuit against the district and Rist.

“Our school systems responsibility for student, safety and protection is sacred. The trust of our community is sacred, and I come to you today, to share this information after completing the most important step separating Mr. Rist from the students in our district.” Castaneda said.

However, court documents said Rist pursued more adult relationships with the two students after graduation and the district said Oregon state has a loophole.

“Here is that loophole as it attains to Mr. Rist; Mr. Rist attempted to advance relationship with students that was more clearly, romantic and sexual only after they were technically no longer considered students in the eyes of the law.” Castaneda said. “The fact that a teacher can legally do this with recent high school graduate is unethical and morally unacceptable.”

On Oct. 2, Rist was placed on administrative leave and a letter was sent to families of Kalapuya Elementary.

“To our Kalapuya community specifically, I want you to know that we absolutely have no reason to believe Mr. Rist had any inappropriate conduct.” Castaneda said.

On Sept. 29, a new complaint was filed alleging misconduct of a similar nature against Rist from a third McNary student. The district said if the new complaint is proven credible, they will take more action.

The district assured parents of Kalapuya Elementary students that there’s no reason to believe any inappropriate behavior happened at that school or involved those students.

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