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Former Harding teacher found guilty

Had inappropriate contact with special education student

Tribune Chronicle / Renee Fox Eric Kline, left, a former special education teacher at Warren G. Harding High School, is handcuffed after a jury found him guilty Tuesday of sexual battery of a 16-year-old female student. Kline was hired by the district in August 2017, and the allegation surfaced in March.

WARREN — A former teacher assigned to help kids with learning disabilities at Warren G. Harding High School was convicted Tuesday of sexual battery of a student after a two-day trial and less than two hours of jury deliberations.

Eric Kline will undergo a presentence investigation before he is sentenced by Trumbull County Common Pleas Judge Ronald J. Rice at a future date.

Kline faces up to five years behind bars, will be classified as a Tier III sex offender and will not be eligible to teach again, said Diane Barber, Trumbull County assistant prosecutor.

“I believe he should serve some jail time, and it is a good thing he won’t be able to teach again — that is important here,” Barber said.

The victim, a student with a learning disability who was 16 at the time, and her friend testified at the trial, as did Kline.

Kline admitted to texting and using Snapchat with students, including the victim. In one exchange, the student tells Kline she is going to take a shower. Kline responds by saying that would be “fun,” and when she states it would be if there were someone to join her, Kline responds with, “me.”

Kline testified that when he and the victim went into his classroom alone together in March, it was so he could grab some paperwork and she could grab an item out of her bag.

Prosecutors argued, and the victim testified, that when the two went into the classroom, Kline turned off the light and locked the door. Once in the room, the victim and Kline kissed and touched, and then he asked her to perform a sex act and she did, prosecutors said.

The jury was shown a video of Kline looking both directions in the hallway before leaving the classroom after the act, and the victim leaving a minute later. The jury also saw numerous text messages between the two.

The victim did not want to tell on Kline, and later apologized that he was in trouble and said the two “should have waited,” prosecutors said.

It does not matter if the girl consented because Kline was a teacher in a position of power, Barber argued.

“This law is designed to protect students from inappropriate contact from teachers,” Barber said.

Kline was the responsible adult and should have kept his messages and behavior professional, Barber said.

Mark LaVelle, Kline’s defense attorney, argued the girl had a crush on Kline and school officials, police and prosecutors pressured her to make up a story after hearing a rumor that Kline and a student were too close.

Kline said he messaged students so he could ask them what they wanted for lunch if they did well on a test. He said when texts became inappropriate, he didn’t report it because he didn’t think anything would be done. He said he was told by other school employees to “keep it professional” when interacting with students on social media or in texts.

Even after the school told Kline he was on administrative leave and not to contact the victim, Kline texted her numerous times, even as she sat in the school principal’s office, Barber said.

Kline was hired in August 2017 and put on paid administrative leave March 15 after the allegation surfaced.

Kline’s bail was revoked and he was booked into the Trumbull County Jail shortly after the verdict was read.

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