(This article is offered to our reading public because we here at the Independent believe you have a right to know. This article in no way be implies that we believe the allegations are true—frankly we don’t know. We have little in the way of facts and facts is what you deserve, not opinions.)
The rumor mill has churned up lots of stories lately concerning text messages reportedly sent from an assistant coach to a female student athlete at Eagle Point High School. A report in another publication claims that several employees of District #9 have identified Jonathan Bilden as the coach having sent inappropriate messages to an unidentified player on one of the athletic teams. This student then, according to reports, showed the text messages to a teacher who properly reported it to supervisors.
On approximately February 18, the Independent received an anonymous letter from an unidentified person who claimed that his/her spouse is a teacher at Eagle Point High School. The letter said that they believed a “cover-up” was going on at the school and that employees were afraid of coming forward for fear of losing their job. The letter goes on to say that “teachers, staff members and community members have been made to sign a gag order to try to keep the situation under wraps.”
The letter also says that there was no immediate action taken to remove Mr. Bilden as a coach; that happened later—one report was that he was fired, the other that he had resigned. It should be noted that we do not place a lot of importance on unsigned letters here at the paper, except they make good fodder for starting a fire in the wood stove. It was reported because others personally have relayed the same story to us.
A great deal is at stake here. There have been teachers and others in highly visible positions ruined by accusations that later proved false. The community should be cautious here and not pass judgment without facts. Bilden is innocent until proven guilty. Just as anyone else accused, he deserves a right to a hearing and a finding of facts. If found guilty, he will be dealt with accordingly.
In this politically charged climate following the strike of last year, there are other possibilities, advanced by people of other scenarios that readily come to mind. Bilden is a former School Board member and reportedly had planned to file for one of the Board positions that will open this year. There are those who believe it is a union ploy to gain control of the board, by eliminating Bilden from the running. Reportedly, he has withdrawn his name from the running.
Bilden holds positions on the City Council of Eagle Point and with the League of Oregon Cities. City administrator Henry Lawrence, had little to say about the situation, preferring to wait until the facts are in before making any judgment. D9 administrators were out of town when the Independent attempted to contact them for a statement but they did send the following in reply to our questions through Scott Whitman, director of business services. “School District 9 is committed to providing a safe learning environment for all of its students and a safe working environment for all of its employees. Part of this safe environment relies on the assurance of confidentiality for both students and employees.
“While I cannot discuss details of the investigation, I would like to address an inaccurate report that has surfaced that seems to indicate that the district did not respond to the texting allegations in a timely and proper manner. As a matter of district policy and in compliance with mandatory state reporting requirements, as soon as the district receives an allegation or complaint regarding child safety we begin the investigation process. If warranted, the district works with law enforcement or DHS to determine if there is a legal requirement to report. The district will coordinate with law enforcement and their investigative process, and complete a thorough, timely and objective investigation. The district will then take appropriate action, as required by district policy and by law.
“In this case, school administrative personnel first learned of the texts on February 6th and immediately notified the coach involved to cease contact and communication with the student. The actual texts became available to school administration and the Eagle Point Police Department on February 11th and the investigation continued. The coach resigned his position at that time. The district will continue to cooperate with authorities as the investigation continues.”
Oregon Education Association consultant Daniel Burdis told the Independent that the information he had is “second and third-hand information.” He confirmed what Whitman told the Independent, but said that the first versions of the story offered by Whitman to other news agencies differed from this version. Burdis also has a concern for the teacher who reported the incident who is not having her contract renewed. Burdis said the teacher is a probationary employee and therefore does not fall within the jurisdiction of the union contract. The union feels the non-renewal is retaliation stemming from the incident.
Very few know the actual facts in the case. State police are investigating and will certainly find information that will shed light on the situation.
Please reserve judgment until the investigation is complete. Rumors are destructive and beneath adult behavior. Whatever the case, guilty or not, the truth will be revealed.