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Jefferson High teacher accused of sex with students

By Staff | Jun 27, 2016

Martinsburg — A Jefferson High School teacher is charged with having sexual relations with two female students, a development that arose during the investigation into the suicide of another teacher.

According to a criminal complaint, Joel Ziler, 29, is believed to have engaged in the activity with the 17-year-old girls at his home on Good Drive in Berkeley County. According to Jefferson County Schools, Ziler hired before the 2015 school year as a music teacher and choral director.

One of the alleged victims told her parents that she had sex with Ziler at his house in April, according to the criminal complaint. It was then discovered, according to police, that the girl’s friend had done the same in early June. The girl’s father told police he had called Ziler and informed him he knew what had happened. According to the complaint, Ziler then texted the girl and her mother, asking that they “please don’t prosecute.” In addition, police say the teacher sent an email to the girl’s mother saying he had “made a mistake,” that he was “sorry” and that he “intended to resign from teaching because he is incapable.”

In a forensic interview with police, the girl said Ziler had first attempted to initiate a sexual relationship in March. Her friend, in a separate interview, said Ziler first approached her in April and they first had sex June 5, after she and drama teacher Steve Glendenning had been at Ziler’s home to “hang out.”

According to the criminal complaint, Glendenning texted the friend, “requesting she not be left alone with Joel Ziler because he was afraid he may try to have sex with her.”

A digital forensic examination of the girls’ cellphones corroborated the stories, according to the criminal complaint. The examination showed Ziler had also solicited nude photos of one of the girls, according to police.

Police say this information was first uncovered when investigating the death of Glendenning, who committed suicide at the school on the morning of June 8.

According to a press release from Jefferson County Schools, Ziler worked from February 2014 to June 15 in Hampshire County Schools before he was hired at Jefferson.

Ziler has tendered his resignation, according to Sheriff Pete Dougherty; however, the Board of Education has refused to accept it. Dougherty has indicated the refusal was a way to prevent Ziler from potentially keeping his teaching license. If no charges had been brought and Ziler had resigned, he would have been able to teach elsewhere, Dougherty reported.

Ziler is charged with two felony counts of sexual abuse by a person in a position of trust and one count of solicitation of a minor via computer. If convicted, he faces 10 to 20 years in prison on each of the sexual abuse charges, and 2 to 10 years for the solicitation charge.

He is free on $80,000 bond.