Tearful with remorse, former Kellogg High School teacher Mark Holzer said at a Monday ethics hearing that he was wrong to have an affair with an 18-year-old student.
A panel of three teachers, convened by the state Department of Education’s Professional Standards Commission, will decide whether to revoke Holzer’s teaching certificate. They could also suspend it for a year or two, as Holzer is asking them to do.
Holzer testified that his marriage was on the rocks when he started his relationship with the student. He said he began confiding in her.
“Which I realize was very wrong, but it happened. Sometime during the school year … I was way in over my head,” he said.
The girl, then a junior, had been Holzer’s aide and was on teams coached by him and by his wife, who was also a coach. The relationship became physical after the girl turned 18, so Holzer does not face criminal charges for having sex with a minor.
She and Holzer had intercourse during the 1996 spring break, according to both of them.
On Monday, the girl testified with her parents at her side. She said she did not feel pressured into having sex.
“I knew it wasn’t right, because he was a teacher. But feelings sort of took over,” she said.
Lisa Holzer spoke on her husband’s behalf, crying as she blamed herself for bringing the young woman into their home. The Holzers had no children, she said, “and boys and girls always felt comfortable coming to our house. As I look back on it, that was the problem … We never had time for ourselves.”
Holzer said she didn’t think her husband would make the same mistake again if given a second chance to teach.
“There’s not a doubt in my mind that he cared for (the girl) and still does,” she said.
In the spring, the girl’s father came to school officials with concerns about the situation. When rumors of the romance began circulating, Principal Larry Wier and Kellogg School District Superintendent Larry Curry cautioned Holzer about the consequences of getting involved with a student.
“I told him that if the rumors should turn out to be true, it would be my administrative duty to report this to the professional standards committee,” Wier testified.
On March 7 and again on June 17, Holzer denied to Wier and Curry that he had a physical relationship with the girl.
“I flat-out lied to them a couple of times. I would have done anything to protect her honor,” Holzer testified.
Holzer resigned on June 25, citing personal reasons.
Four Kellogg High teachers testified that lying and the affair itself were out of character for Holzer. All argued that his teaching certificate should be suspended, not revoked.
“He is an upbeat, caring individual,” said Lois Schlaefer, who worked beside Holzer and whose daughter was coached by him.
Alex D’Andrea, the school’s former athletic director, praised Holzer’s rapport with students.
“If I thought that Mark was any type of predator, I’d shoot him. You wouldn’t even have to worry about holding a hearing,” D’Andrea said. “He’s paid - he lost his job. He’s a good teacher, he’s a good coach. He’s a good person.”
The panel that will pass judgment on Holzer consists of Coeur d’Alene teachers Dwight Wilson and Diane Brumley, and Lewiston teacher Donna Johnson.
Their decision is expected either later this month or in January.
Tom Gratton, the deputy attorney general representing the Department of Education, reminded the panel that the girl involved with Holzer was vulnerable to a teacher’s advances.
“Think back to your level of sophistication when you were a junior in high school,” he said. “At some point, Mr. Holzer took advantage.”
Holzer’s attorney, Mike Peacock, argued that the affair was one mistake in an otherwise exemplary 12-year teaching career.
If Holzer’s certificate is revoked, he can request reinstatement in the future. But a suspension is more appropriate, Peacock said, suggesting that would make it easier for Holzer to find a teaching job.
Holzer now lives in Missoula, where he is studying to be a barber. The girl is a senior at Kellogg High.