The director of the Nease High School band resigned last month after school district officials launched an investigation into allegations he engaged in a sexual relationship with a former student and other charges of inappropriate behavior.
Michael Johnson was suspended by the St. Johns County School District March 27 after it received complaints that the teacher had engaged in a sexual relationship with a student. On May 8, Johnson submitted his resignation after being interviewed by school officials, who also conducted in-depth interviews with both current and former students and teachers.
“Upon learning of the allegations of inappropriate conduct, (Johnson) was immediately placed on suspension with pay (3/27/17) pending the outcome of the investigation,” school district spokesperson Christina Langston wrote in an email to the Recorder.
Yet a review of Johnson’s personnel file indicates that between December 2016 and late January 2017, school officials received several anonymous letters and emails alleging sexual misconduct by Johnson – communications that went unanswered, prompting frustration on the part of the person reporting the alleged misconduct.
“Michael Johnson, the band director currently working at Nease High School, needs to be reported,” the person wrote in a Feb. 1 letter that followed several emails asking whether the allegations were being investigated. “…This is about a true physical relationship between himself and an underage student. And the potential of more than just one…. Ruining children’s lives is inexcusable….”
According to school records, new Nease Principal Lisa Kunze responded that evening, saying that school officials had sought guidance from district personnel and requesting more information to initiate an investigation.
The most serious allegations involve charges that Johnson engaged in an inappropriate relationship with a student. According to notes taken during school officials’ interviews with Johnson, the band teacher admitted to the relationship. When asked when the relationship became sexual, Johnson initially answered, “I don’t remember” before saying it was after the student had turned 18 and graduated from Nease.
Those statements were contradicted by others interviewed as part of the school district’s investigation, which uncovered additional charges of misconduct. Among the allegations raised was the claim that Johnson had a “Fight Club” where he encouraged students to wrestle one another.
Johnson received a written reprimand from the school for a December 2016 incident in which a student was injured during in-class wrestling.
One student claimed that Johnson made a student spin a rifle in his underwear in front of the entire band, prompting that student to quit the group. Others alleged Johnson insisted on personally measuring male students for band uniforms, sent photos of himself in his underwear to students and bought “revealing underwear” for other students.
Additional charges include claims that Johnson publicly ridiculed African American and Asian students with racially insensitive remarks and hazed freshman students during band camp, requiring them to crawl in the dirt and grunt like animals, and depriving them of adequate water breaks while they practiced for hours in the hot sun.
Students told investigators that despite being afraid to come forward, they wanted to “protect” younger classmates from Johnson because he “put students in dangerous, unsafe situations and was a terrible role model for them.”
According to the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office, deputies investigated the allegations regarding Johnson’s relationship with the student, but could not move forward because the student did not want to be identified and thus would not sign a sworn statement.
Johnson, meanwhile, has launched a GoFundMe campaign seeking donations to support a “new career education,” saying, “I am horribly excited to start a new chapter in my life. Exploring this career opportunity is actually a revisit to my original dream.”