A Kenmore West High School teacher accused of buying alcohol for two teenage girls denies the charge, according to his lawyer.
Michael P. Herb, 37, was charged Friday with unlawfully dealing with a child, a misdemeanor. Town of Tonawanda police say Herb gave beer and other alcohol to two 17-year-olds one March evening in a parking lot off Sheridan Drive.
The teacher has been suspended from the district with pay since May 7, when school officials first received complaints from students.
Herb's lawyer, Joseph LaTona, said he has not yet seen the charges, but added that his client will plead not guilty at his first court appearance May 28.
Herb, a social studies teacher, has been teaching in the Ken-Ton schools for 10 years. During that time, he has impressed many students and parents with his ability to get teens interested in history. He developed a reputation as a committed teacher and a fair grader, according to Donette A. Darrow, president of the Ken-Ton School Board.
As word of the criminal charge spread on Friday, many in the district reacted with surprise.
Darrow said Herb was her son's favorite teacher before he graduated from Kenmore West six years ago.
"Mr. Herb taught so that the kids could understand and comprehend and retain what they learned," she said. "It wasn't just memorization and take the test and then boom, it's gone. He really made an educational impression on the kids."
Ken-Ton Superintendent Steven A. Achramovitch, citing confidentiality issues surrounding personnel matters, declined to comment on Herb's past performance, or on whether the district had ever fielded complaints about him before.
School officials first learned of a potential problem on May 7, when students reported allegations about inappropriate activity involving Herb, Achramovitch said. After consulting an attorney, the district removed Herb from the classroom that afternoon and placed him on a paid leave, which remains in effect.
Under state education law, the district must pay any tenured teacher who is suspended pending an investigation, Achramovitch said.
District officials contacted Town of Tonawanda police Wednesday and requested an investigation, according to Chief Samuel M. Palmiere.
Police believe Herb gave two teenage girls beer and Smirnoff's Ice in March in a parking lot off Sheridan Drive. At least one of the girls was a student of Herb's, Palmiere said. The girls did not drink the alcohol in Herb's presence, and he was not drinking, Palmiere said.
In another incident in March, Herb provided alcohol to those two girls and a third girl in a hotel room in downtown Buffalo, Palmiere said the girls told police. Town of Tonawanda police have forwarded information about those allegations to Buffalo police, the chief said.
The Buffalo detective investigating the case could not be reached on Friday.
"I could safely say (Herb) is going to be facing additional charges in the City of Buffalo," Palmiere said.
Those charges likely will be the same as those the teacher faces in Tonawanda, the chief said.
None of the girls has reported to police any sexual activity with Herb, Palmiere said.
Meanwhile, the district is conducting its own separate investigation, which may lead to disciplinary action if Herb is found to be guilty of charges, Achramovitch said. The superintendent would not elaborate on what those charges might be.
Once the district concludes its investigation, if it "finds probable cause to proceed," then the School Board would be presented with charges. If the board votes to pursue disciplinary action, then an impartial hearing officer would hear the case and make a ruling.
The outcome of the criminal case would not determine the outcome of any possible disciplinary action, Achramovitch said.
The superintendent vowed to move the process along quickly.
"I want people to make sure they understand we are pursuing this," Achramovitch said. "This is not something that's going to be swept under the rug."
This is the first time a Ken-Ton teacher has been accused of providing alcohol to minors in the 11 years Achramovitch has served in the district's administration, he said.
"It's not tolerated," the superintendent said. "We'll certainly seek disciplinary action any time we find out about that and it's proven."