West Ada candidate faced reprimand, sexual harassment allegation in Oregon

Russell “Russ” Joki, who is seeking a West Ada School District trustee position, resigned as superintendent of an Oregon school district in 2000 while facing an allegation of sexual harassment. He was publicly reprimanded by the Oregon teacher standards commission for his handling of a teacher and volunteer coach who gave alcohol to students in 1999.

Joki acknowledged both incidents Tuesday to the Idaho Statesman. He is one of four candidates running for an open trustee seat in Zone 5, located around South Locust Grove Road and Interstate 84 in Meridian.

Joki, 69, was hired as superintendent of the Tigard-Tualatin School District southwest of Portland in 1985 after five years as superintendent of Nampa School District. In 1996, he was named Oregon’s superintendent of the year by the Oregon Association of School Executives.

In 1999, Joki had taken on some duties of the district’s human resources director — who normally investigates allegations against teachers — because the human resources job was vacant. He failed to report the actions of the teacher and coach (later hired as a teacher in September 1999) who were involved in a party at which students and alcohol were present. According to the reprimand, he was required to report the incident to the state’s Teachers Standards and Practices Commission.

The commission oversees the behavior of teachers, principals, superintendents, school counselors, psychologists and some school nurses, said Elizabeth Keller, the commission’s director of licensure and professional practices. It has authority to discipline educators with measures ranging from a private letter up to a revocation of a teacher’s license. Disciplinary actions are public information in Oregon.

Here’s what the commission says happened:

In May 1999, the teacher and coach were house-sitting for a family in Tigard, and the family’s two high school-age sons were present. There was a party there.

A Tigard Police Department investigation reported that “a group of students had consumed alcohol at the party” and that the teacher and coach “were aware of the students’ drinking and had furnished alcohol to some of the students.”

Joki failed to inform the commission that the two “may have furnished alcohol to minors in violation of their professional responsibilities,” the reprimand says. “Mr. Joki had sufficient information to conclude that these teachers may have committed acts constituting gross neglect of duty.”

Police said they informed Joki of the investigation.

Joki told the Statesman that he met with the teachers, conducted a review and “reprimanded” them. The incident was not prosecuted.

Several months later, Joki resigned, citing health problems. He told the Statesman on Tuesday that he had undergone back surgery.

But he also faced an allegation of sexual harassment from the district’s No. 2 administrator, he acknowledged.

The Oregonian reported that Joki admitted in a resignation agreement to wrongdoing that could have cost him his job. Officials alleged that Joki’s harassment included touching, remarks and requests of a sexual nature from the spring of 1996 to the fall of 1999, according to a September 2000 story by The Associated Press based on The Oregonian’s reporting.

Joki told the Statesman that he was not on the verge of being fired. “I decided it was a good time to retire,” he said.

He said it was a difficult time for him at the district because of his health.

About his relationship with the administrator, he said, “I had said some things to her that were inappropriate. I don’t remember what I said.”

Joki says he is not the same person he was in 2000.

“I came out of that a better educator, certainly a better person,” he said. “I am more sensitive to the the need and concerns I see in other people ... and how I can project who I truly am. I am a Christian.”

Joki has based his trustee campaign on greater parental involvement. He sued to end the practice of some school districts, including West Ada, of charging students fees to participate in their education.

His lawsuit said two grandchildren were charged to register for kindergarten and for money for supplies and milk. Joki said his grandson had to pay $85 in fees at Meridian High for chemistry, art and sports medicine classes, as well as for “junior class dues,” the AP reported. The case is expected to go to trial in August.

Joki said he would recuse himself from making board decisions or sitting in closed sessions where the case might be discussed.

Joki earned a doctorate from the University of Idaho, a master’s in education from Whitworth College and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Idaho.