Councilor allegedly sent texts to EPHS girl

Jonathan Bilden, 30, was source of inappropriate messages, an employee union representative says

A consultant for the Eagle Point School District employee union says the high school assistant coach accused of inappropriately texting a student athlete earlier this year is a city councilman and former school board member.

Oregon Education Association Uniserv consultant Daniel Burdis said several Eagle Point employees have identified Jonathan Bilden, 30, as the assistant coach who sent inappropriate texts to a female student athlete at Eagle Point High School.

Burdis also said the employee who received the first report of the texts from the student is losing her job as a result of the district's investigation and has been "horribly wronged," a claim the district firmly denies.

Bilden, a 2000 EPHS graduate, was an assistant volleyball coach for the high school last fall and an assistant coach for boys basketball in the winter.

Though Bilden did not return phone calls seeking comment, he stated in an email sent late Wednesday that the claims were "heinous rumors" and a union attempt to retaliate against his wife, an EPHS teacher, for not participating in last year's employees' strike.

Bilden serves numerous roles in the community, including as an Eagle Point city councilman, a board member with Southern Oregon Regional Economic Development Inc., former president of the Eagle Point/Upper Rogue Chamber of Commerce and a board member for the League of Oregon Cities. He is the general manager and chief of staff of Impact Marketing, a political telemarketing company in Medford.

According to Burdis, the student who received the texts reported them to an employee at the high school on Wednesday, Feb. 6, and the employee reported them to Principal Tim Rupp within an hour.

Burdis said Bilden continued to coach basketball until the following Monday, Feb. 11.

The Mail Tribune, after receiving anonymous emails about the text messages starting Feb. 11, called Rupp on Feb. 13 and contacted Human Resources Director Allen Barber and Superintendent Cynda Rickert on Feb. 19 and 20. Each time, the officials said they couldn't comment because it was a personnel issue.

The texts were reported by the school district to Eagle Point police on Feb. 20, two weeks after the date Burdis said the district was first informed of the allegations. A preliminary investigation began the same day, police said.

Officers from Oregon State Police were at the high school interviewing students from last fall's volleyball team on March 1, Burdis said.

Eagle Point police Chief Vern Thompson said Wednesday that the investigation was still ongoing, and he had no information to report.

Rickert reiterated in an email Wednesday that she couldn't discuss the investigation because it was a personnel issue, but said that during investigations, the administration typically asks the employee to stay away from students and the school campus.

"Generally speaking, in cases such as this, administration notifies the employee to stop contact with students immediately and sends notice of no trespass," Rickert wrote.

Rickert confirmed last month that Bilden had resigned from his position as assistant coach, and that he no longer holds any position with the district. She did not say when Bilden resigned.

Bilden, who served on the Eagle Point School Board from 2005 to 2009, had filed to run for the board again this May, but withdrew his application on Feb. 19, according to the Jackson County Elections Office.

He also resigned from his position on the district budget committee, according to board documents.

Bilden did not return calls to his cellphone seeking comment Wednesday or to calls made to him in February. But an email identified as from Jonathan Bilden sent to the Mail Tribune late Wednesday claims the allegations were in retaliation for his wife's refusal to participate in a eight-day school employees' strike in May 2012:

"This situation is clearly an attack by teacher union members in Eagle Point," the email reads. "Union members used this incident for political gain, as my wife, who is a district nine teacher, did not support the teachers strike last year, and was threatened with retaliation.

"Union members kept information from administrators for weeks and reported it only when school board election filings opened, then leaked heinous rumors to the media, violating state teacher laws," the email states. "I am looking at legal action against these union members, including asking for an investigation by the Teacher's Standards and Practices Commission.

"The saddest part is that in the middle, a student athlete was humiliated by union members to attack my family and anyone else who dares stand up to them."

The email did not elaborate on what information had been held for weeks. Bilden's wife, Elizabeth, is a math and health teacher at EPHS, coach of the volleyball team and 2006 graduate of EPHS.

According to Burdis, employees in the district said that Jonathan Bilden sent a series of unanswered text messages to a student that Burdis believes would fall under the district's policy on sexual conduct, something district employees are mandated to report to their supervisors.

"They're definitely inappropriate," said Burdis, who didn't have verbatim copies of the text messages and couldn't provide details of their content.

To be considered sexual conduct, the communication must meet four criteria: be sexual in nature, be directed toward a student, have the potential to interfere with the student's educational performance and have the effect of creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive educational environment, district policy states.

Burdis said that on Feb. 14, district administrators notified the female employee to whom the texts were reported that they would not renew her contract past the end of the school year. They said the reason was because she "didn't characterize the texts in a serious enough fashion" for administration to take swift action, Burdis said.

Burdis said the employee may decide to resign, rather than accept the non-renewal, which would be decided by a School Board vote.

"I think she is being horribly wronged," said Burdis, who added the administration should have taken seriously any report of text messages sent to a student athlete from an adult assistant coach, regardless of how the reporting employee characterized them.

Rickert late Wednesday evening disputed Burdis' claim.

"The information you have been given is not accurate," she said in an email to the Mail Tribune. "Unfortunately, you are being manipulated with only one side of the information." She said if Burdis or the employee were to release her personnel file to the public, "we will share our side of the story completely."

She said the School Board was scheduled to vote on the resignations of seven employees that night and that the female employee's name was on that list.

Burdis said the employee acted appropriately when reporting the texts, and despite the chaos the incident has caused for her, she continues to actively support the student who received the messages.

"The woman's livelihood is being turned upside down, and she's still advocating for the student," said Burdis.

The employee declined to speak to the Mail Tribune but said through a family member that Burdis was acting as her representative.

Burdis said the employee is worried that the student will feel at fault should she lose her job, or that future incidents of this nature will not be reported because students and employees will be afraid of the ramifications, Burdis said.

"I have an 11-year-old daughter, and were this to happen to my daughter, I could not ask for someone to do more than what (the employee) did," said Burdis. "She's a really dedicated person."

Reach reporter Teresa Ristow at 541-776-4459 or tristow@mailtribune.com.


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