The Herald Bulletin

May 2, 2013

Elwood school board terminates Kessinger's coaching contract

By Dani Palmer
The Herald Bulletin

ELWOOD, Ind. — The Elwood Community Schools board unanimously voted to terminate girls varsity basketball coach Thomas Kessinger’s contract Thursday evening.

The board's monthly meeting was held in Elwood Middle School's library,

1207 N. 19th St., with about 60 in attendance.

Kessinger, 29, is being preliminarily charged with child seduction and official misconduct, both Class D felonies that carry a maximum of three years jail time in Indiana, after allegedly engaging in a sexual relationship with one of his 17-year-old players, according to Elwood police.

“The evidence that was shared with me, uncovered during the (police) investigation, was sufficient in my opinion to lead to this action tonight,” Interim Superintendent Tom Austin said.

And because Kessinger was an instructional aide who did not have a teacher’s contract but rather a classified, or at-will, contract, no hearing had to be held, Austin added.

Kessinger turned himself in to authorities on Tuesday evening at the Madison County Jail and posted $5,000 bail bond shortly after.

No court date has yet been set and formal charges have yet to be filed, according to court information available on Thursday.

Austin noted that school officials are discussing possible punishment for the female student who, according to the probable cause affidavit, committed sexual acts on school grounds with Kessinger, but have not made any decisions.

Kessinger has had past run-ins with the law. He’s been arrested twice previously on misdemeanor alcohol-related charges, according to public records.

One case was dismissed when the officer failed to appear in court. Kessinger was eligible for the pretrial diversion program that allows a defendant to have charges dismissed if a specific set of requirements is completed in the other.

Austin said he is unsure of which background check was run on Kessinger since he was not with the school district during his hiring. But, whether it was the level 1 check or a more thorough level 2 check, he said, it appears Kessinger’s record did not dissuade officials from making the decision.

If convicted of a felony or misdemeanor, according to the Office of Teacher Education Services, any applicant filing for a teacher’s license must provide a written statement of explanation and provide court documents.

As for individuals who receive misdemeanors while employed, Austin said, he did have a certified and classified employee arrested off site for public intoxication charges in his 15 years as superintendent and that an attorney informed him what happens to an employee on his or her own time in such a case has no bearing in the school environment.

However, if that same employee were to walk into school intoxicated, it’d be a much different story.

Austin retired from Elwood Community Schools in 2010 and stepped in temporarily for retiring superintendent Glen Nelson in January.

Kessinger is being represented by attorney Zaki Ali, who said Thursday that he has not yet received the police report or any of the facts. Once he does, he said, he’ll review them and move forward.

Find Dani Palmer on Facebook and @DaniPalmer_THB on Twitter, or call 640-4847.