PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — A Salem-Keizer Public Schools teacher was placed on administrative leave Monday after a lawsuit alleges he sexually abused two of his former students.
The two unidentified students filed the $10 million lawsuit on Wednesday against Josh Rist, 35, and the district, accusing Rist of “grooming” and “sexual abuse” between 2015 and 2020 when he worked as a music and choir teacher at McNary High School.
After being put on administrative leave during the sexual misconduct investigation, which went on from May 28, 2021, to Aug. 18, 2022, the school district moved Rist to Kalapuya Elementary last fall. The school sent out a message to parents Sunday night notifying them that he had been placed on leave.
“Effective tomorrow, Mr. Rist will no longer be at Kalapuya Elementary School. We will assign a substitute music teacher. We look forward to the continuation of an excellent school year at Kalapuya Elementary School.”
The lawsuit alleges that Rist had a previous history of grooming students at Hermiston High School, where he taught before coming to McNary. It also says that a different student had complained about grooming before the alleged incidents with the two girls involved in the suit.
“It’s shocking how many blaring warning signs and complaints were completely ignored for years and years,” said lead attorney Emily Stebbins from The Gatti Law Firm in Salem. “It makes my head explode when institutions choose to cover up for predators over taking proper steps to protect their kids. When a school district plays kick-the-can with an abusive teacher, they need a swift culture change and some long overdue accountability.”
According to the suit, Rist would give the students lingering hugs and massages and would talk with them about graphic sexual topics. The suit also alleges that Rist insisted that the two students delete all text messages from him and required screenshots to prove that the messages were deleted.
An investigation by the Keizer Police Department concluded that Rist had told each of the plaintiffs that he loved them — including telling one of them that she was the “love of his life” and that he could not be with her because of his wife.
Text message screenshots show that he told one of the girls via text message that she was a “little forest nymph” and a “celestial spicy fairy,” the report says.
The police report also said that Rist told one of the girls that he had sexually explicit dreams about her and that while giving one of the girls a massage, “Rist’s hands eventually moved to her butt.”
There were additional students who complained to McNary leadership about Rist, according to the police report.
Rist is not facing any criminal charges at this time.
In June 2021, the Oregon Teacher Standards and Practices Commission in June 2021 was sent a formal misconduct report from the district.
On June 8, 2023, Rist signed a stipulation facts document, agreeing that the evidence of the case would support the commission’s findings that he had two inappropriate relationships with two female students while he taught at McNary.
Rist was suspended for 60 days and was placed on a three-year probation after TSPC found that he had engaged in gross negligence of duty.
The school district declined to comment on the lawsuit.
“The District is aware of the pending lawsuit and has no comment on pending litigation. The district is aware of and fully cooperated in the investigation by both law enforcement and TSPC. Mr. Rist was on leave during investigation. The District is focused on the safe education of its students. Mr. Rist is currently on leave and the district is assigning a substitute music teacher to Kalapuya. Beyond that, we cannot comment on this matter as it is a part of a pending lawsuit,” SKPS said in a statement.