Former Ecker Hill teacher accused of sexual communication with student
January 28, 2016
A former music teacher at Ecker Hill Middle School is facing four felony charges for alleged inappropriate communications with a student that spanned approximately four months.
According to documents filed in 3rd District Court, Derek Spitzer, 53, is charged with: solicitation to commit sodomy upon a child and solicitation to commit aggravated sexual abuse of a child, both first-degree felonies, as well as second- and third-degree counts of enticing a minor by Internet or text.
The allegations against Spitzer first came to light earlier this month when the accuser, an Ecker Hill student, showed a school counselor a series of sexually explicit emails Spitzer had allegedly sent the student, according to a probable cause statement filed in court. The Park City School District said in a statement that it then notified the Summit County Sheriff’s Office and placed Spitzer on leave. Spitzer was fired Jan. 12 after the district conducted an internal investigation.
According to the probable cause statement, Spitzer and the student allegedly shared approximately 500 emails on school computers between October, 2015, and January. Tim McConnell, the Park City School District’s associate superintendent of human resources, told The Park Record that the district’s internal investigation revealed that the vast majority of the correspondence was from Spitzer to the student and that Spitzer "inundated" the student with emails.
Spitzer is accused of using the emails to ask the student sexual questions as part of a fake study on male sexuality by the Kinsey Institute. Spitzer allegedly gave the student $50 for participating in the fictitious study.
As time wore on, the emails escalated in inappropriate nature, with Spitzer allegedly eventually soliciting the student for sexual activity and asking the student to accompany him on a trip to Las Vegas. The probable cause statement claims that Spitzer used his position as a teacher to "groom" and establish a rapport with the student.
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The police took Spitzer into custody Tuesday, according to the district statement. His initial appearance in court is scheduled for Monday, Feb. 1. Utah state court records do not indicate that Spitzer had ever previously been in trouble with the law.
Joy Natale, a prosecutor for the Summit County Attorney’s Office, said the investigation of Spitzer is ongoing. As of Wednesday, there was no evidence that he had engaged in inappropriate behavior with any other students. Natale encouraged anyone else with information regarding accusations against Spitzer to contact the attorney’s office or the Summit County Sheriff’s Office.
McConnell said that Spitzer had taught in the district for 13 years. A substitute teacher has taken over his duties at Ecker Hill, and the district expected to begin seeking a long-term replacement by next week.
This is at least the third incident in the last two school years in which an employee of the Park City School District has been charged with a crime that was sexual in nature. In 2014, Jose Maria Ardanaz Ezcurdia, a former dual-language immersion teacher at Parley’s Park Elementary, was federally indicted on allegations of child porn possession. In September, Michael Heagren, the district’s former financial manager, was also charged with child porn possession. According to court documents, the case against him is in pretrial.
Ember Conley, the district’s superintendent, said in an email statement to The Park Record that ensuring the safety of students is a top priority.
"As the district leader, I take our students’ safety very seriously," she said. "As a parent, I am constantly monitoring my children’s use of technology. Because we have had training and informational sessions for our students and staff, this situation was brought to our attention, although not in as timely a manner as we would have hoped for. "In addition, we have restrictive filters on our Internet. With this situation, we would have had to have been randomly searching this individual’s use of email for specific content. We are, however, working to improve and expand our ability to conduct more effective random and periodic checks of electronic communications for inappropriate content with school district technologies."