News-Register file photo##Sean Burke is shown in this 2012 photo. The former school administrator resigned after a police inquiry.
News-Register file photo##Sean Burke is shown in this 2012 photo. The former school administrator resigned after a police inquiry.
By Starla Pointer • Staff Writer • 

Administrator was under investigation when he resigned

At the time, the News-Register has learned, he was under McMinnville police investigation over allegations he had engaged in a sexual relationship with a 16-year-old student from his social studies class two decades earlier.

Attorney Margaret Olney told police Burke may have crossed boundaries he should not have crossed with the girl, but he denied any sexual component. Other than this long-ago incident when he was a first-year teacher, Olney said, Burke has been an exemplary educator.

“Throughout his career he has developed a reputation as a professional, effective and caring teacher and administrator,” Olney said in a written statement to the News-Register. “Having an allegation raised after 20 years of an unblemished career has been devastating for him and his family.

“After much heartache and debate, Mr. Burke decided to resign his position in order to not be a distraction to the district and to protect his family, including his children who attend the McMinnville schools.”

She concluded, “He asks that the community respect the privacy of his family during this difficult time. He also wants to express his deepest regrets for any negative impact that this situation has on the students, staff and families of MHS.”

The alleged contact took place over a period of several months during Burke’s first year with the district. In his late 20s at the time, he coached and did his student teaching in Canby before joining the Mac High faculty. 

In the ensuing years, Burke was a well-liked, well-respected coach and teacher. He became Mac High’s athletic director in 2002, then dean of students and assistant principal in 2010. In 2011, he was named Oregon’s assistant principal of the year, and finished as third runner-up for the national title.

When Principal Kris Olsen moved to the district office to work on the upcoming bond measure, Burke was tapped to serve as interim principal for the 2015-16 school year. But Olsen returned to the Mac High principal’s office when classes resumed after winter break.

The investigation began after a woman contacted police in the late fall, alleging Burke had initiated a sexual relationship with her during her sophomore year at Mac High. She described traumatic incidents in her childhood and adolescence that, she said, left her particularly vulnerable to the attentions of her social studies teacher.

At first, she told police, he seemed like a kind father or brother figure who listened to her problems. But she said it eventually took a turn.

The woman alleged repeated sexual contact with Burke in his Mac High classroom and his home in Dundee during that school year, and again in the summer at an out-of-state motel. And she produced photos and a letter Burke allegedly sent her at the time.

McMinnville police said the alleged acts, if proven, could have produced charges of sexual abuse in the second degree, sexual abuse in the third-degree and contributing to the sexual delinquency of a minor. However, they said the statute of limitations had run out for those charges, so they shut down their investigation and closed the case.

The woman told police she waited more than 20 years to come forward because she had felt she was at fault.

“I thought I let my family down,” she told a detective. “I thought I was disgusting. I was so ashamed.”

Now married with children of her own, she said she went to police after considering the risk of her own children or others finding themselves caught in a similar situation.

The police investigation revealed a February 1996 child abuse report alleging that Burke and another MHS teacher had been “dating” female students. Burke denied the allegations when queried by Lee Leddy, serving as school resource officer at the time, and the case was closed.

The News-Register obtained a 143-page file on the recently closed case in response to a public records request. Some elements were redacted on personal privacy grounds, including the name of the complainant.

District officials said they are precluded from commenting on personnel issues. 

Burke is the subject of an open investigation by the Teacher Standards and Practices Commission, which licenses teachers and administrators in Oregon, according to Elizabeth Keller, TSPC’s director of licensure and professional practices.

Comments

Lulu

"Other than this long-ago incident...Burke has been an exemplary educator." Really? How would you feel having your teenage daughter under his helpful, one-on-one supervision, Ms. Olney?
As for the 1996 reference: all teachers must do is deny, and the investigation abruptly ends? Slick police work.
What a nauseating, infuriating situation. I can only wonder how many other lonely kids might have been "helped" by a trusted teacher.

Other than...as in "Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play?"

TTT

Mary Alice Russell Should be held accountable as she is the Superintendent and ultimately owns all responsibility for knowingly placing minors in the presence of a man that had been investigated for child sex abuse.

scooter

TTT, Mary Alice Russell was not the Superintendent in 1996 FYI.

sbagwell

That's a heck of a stretch, TTT. A stretch way too far, in fact.

Maryalice Russell came to the district many years after the series of events in question and had no knowledge of them. The original complaint was handled by the principal and school resource officer on their own, and was dismissed after a cursory query resulted in a flat denial. I'm not even sure the superintendent serving at the time knew about it, let alone someone coming in years later.

We never learned of it, nor did any members of the school board or school staff serving at the time, apparently. It seems to have started and stopped with two individuals, a principal and a school resource officer. It does not appear the girl herself was even contacted.

There is no indication that anyone responsible for any of Sean Burke's promotions or assignments knew that back in 1995, in his first year of teaching, an undetailed complaint was summariily dismissed in the face of a denial. That investigation featured none of the paintstaking work that led to 143 pages of interview transcripts this time around.

I think you are pointing a finger in an entirely wrong direction. Maryalice was as shocked as everyone else when the allegations resurfaced a few weeks ago.

Steve Bagwell, Managing Editor

Tracielux

This does not change my opinion of Sean Burke in any way shape or form!! My heart goes out to him & his family. I have no doubt there will be many people "hating" on my comment. God bless America, we all have the right to our own opinions! With that being said, we support you Sean! Hang in there!

GrizzlyWildcat

Thank you for that clarification, News Register. It's important in emotionally charged issues like this to have people speaking from a place of facts. Throwing baseless allegations out only makes a difficult situation worse.

kona

Sean Burke is a very good person. I wish him the best in this situation.

Rumpelstilzchen

Mr. Burke's resignation and the words of his lawyer indicate it's not just an "allegation". It happened. He did the deed and must pay the price, however disproportionate it may appear after all this time. As for the accuser, her "concern" for the risks to other children sounds hollow and formulaic. Either it was a late revenge; that could be humanly understandable, and in that case it should end here, as she has successfully destroyed his life and career. But if the big bucks lawsuits follow, we'll know what it was really about.

stolp-family

To Rumpl, she didn't ruin his career...HE did! That simple.

Michael

Any one who has experienced traumatic stress can relate to what it took for the woman to finally do what she needed to do to heal. It took her almost 20 years. Some soldiers struggle a life time to work through the pain. At this point it is a "she said, he said" with respect to proof. Mr Burke did the right thing by resigning.

BC

stolp-family - you're absolutely correct. Mr. Burke knew full well what the risks and consequences were at the time. He ruined his career, not her. When does society finally stop blaming the victim?

leen

May this bring healing and closure for the victim, who was brave in coming forward. For Burke's part, he's had 20 years of freedom and the good luck that the statutes ran out and that he didn't, and won't serve time in jail. Shame on the principal, too.

Lulu

Let's face it: There is neither healing nor closure. Ever.

Rumpelstilzchen

"Mr. Burke knew full well what the risks and consequences were at the time. He ruined his career, not her. When does society finally stop blaming the victim?"

We'll apportion "blame" when (if ever) we have sufficient facts for that. Right now all we know is that Mr. Burke's professional position gave him the responsibility; he apparently failed in that, and faces the personal and professional consequences. However, there is not nearly enough information available about the woman to psycho-analyze her into a heroine yet.

BC

"We'll apportion "blame" when (if ever) we have sufficient facts for that."

You, obviously, may blame as you choose. I, however, choose to stop victim-blaming.

As to the law, at the time of the incident she was a 16 year old child and he was in a position of authority over her. Fraternizing, even with adults (read military) is an offence for very good reasons.

By the way - no where did I mention making her a heroine. I said she was the victim. This is about Mr. Burke and his choices.

Lulu

"Three may keep a secret, if two of them are dead."--Benjamin Franklin

Web Design & Web Development by LVSYS