Exonerated Swim Coach Still Sits in CPS Jail
By Jim Vail
The Lane Tech girls swim coach who was accused of inappropriate relations with one of his swimmers was found not guilty but has still not been allowed to return to his teaching job.
Paul Rummelhoff, a 30-year-old math teacher at Lane Technical High School on the north side, is an award-winning swim coach who helped his girls’ teams win numerous conference titles. In 2011, he was named the male coach of the year in the Chicago Public Schools.
But suddenly his world of numbers and swim meets came to an abrupt halt when a student from Lane accused him of having sex with a female student and member of the girls swim team.
On January 10th of this year, he was called down to the principal’s office and informed that he had to pack his items. He was then informed later that weekend, by the principal, to report to the network office.
“The security came and said the principal wanted to see me. The principal said the law department was on their way to see me, but he didn’t know why. The law department never showed, and I was sent home after waiting for 3 hours,” Rummelhoff said in an interview with Second City Teachers.
He said he had no idea why he was supposed to leave the high school he had been teaching at for the past 7 years. He said his principal, Christopher Dignam, told him that he did not know why, and CPS did not inform either men why Rummelhoff was being removed from the school.
“I didn’t receive any letter, and I did not know why I was there (network office),” Rummelhoff told Second City Teachers. “I then received a certified letter stating I was to have no contact with any students or parents. We’re investigating you.”
He said he asked CPS investigator and retired cop, Hal Ardel, what he was being accused of, and Ardel answered that he should already know that the Department of Family and Children Services or DCFS said they are investigating allegations against him.
Rummelhoff then told the investigator that he first needed union representation before he would answer any questions.
Then he got a call the night before his interview with Hal Ardel from CBS news reporter Derrick Blakely, who wanted to ask him questions about the sexual allegations because they were planning to report it on the news that evening.
At this point, the question that Rummelhoff had was how did a TV news reporter suddenly get internal information that CPS was investigating allegations that took the Lane Tech educator completely by surprise.
“The media will twist things,” said Rummelhoff, who added that he decided to not call back the reporter. “I’m not a fan of the media. It’s all about ratings.”
And what could be better than a nice juicy report about a young Lane Tech swim coach being accused of having sex with his female star swimmers.
“Chicago Public Schools officials and state investigators are looking into allegations that a Lane Tech teacher and coach had a sexual relationship with a female student,” CBS TV reported on Jan.23 of this year.
The report was alarming, being one of only three news story of the night. CPS has uncovered a sexual predator!
Except it wasn’t true.
DCFS determined that all the allegations against Rummelhoff were unfounded.
“You were previously notified that the Department of Family and Children Services was investigating a report of suspected child abuse or neglect in fulfillment of its duties under the Abused and Neglected Child Reporting Act.
“After a thorough evaluation, DCFS has determined the report “to be unfounded.” This means that no credible evidence of child abuse or neglect was found during this investigation and that your name will not be listed as a perpetrator of child abuse or neglect on the State Central Register. This does not necessarily mean that an incident did not occur. An incident may have occurred but the evidence did not rise to the level required to indicate for abuse or neglect as dictated by state law and DCFS Administrative Rule.”
And yet Rummelhoff, a beloved teacher at Lane Tech, who was also the sophomore assistant baseball coach and comes from a family of eight children, six of whom graduated from Lane Tech, is still sitting in a white-walled 12 by 15 room with no windows – the equivalent of CPS jail.
He, along with a few other teachers being investigated for whatever accusations, is collecting his regular pay and benefits until CPS concludes its investigation, Rummelhoff said.
His nightmare scenario is a textbook case of how simple, childish accusations with no merit can destroy an innocent teacher’s life.
They say social media today is dangerous terrain that many of us are treading, unsuspecting of what lurks in a world of instant communication, with rumors portrayed as facts in cyberspace.
It is probable that the CBS reporter went to Facebook and Twitter to read up on all the buzz around Rummelhoff from the students who know him.
CBS Blakely told Second City Teachers that the allegations were circulating everywhere.
“It was not a secret he was out of the school,” Blakely said by phone. “There were rumors all over the school why he wasn’t at school. It was out there.”
Interestingly enough, while many students were wondering in cyberspace whatever happened to their teacher, Rummelhoff said he has no facebook or twitter account because he doesn’t think his students should know about his personal life.
And yet it is quite possible that facebook and twitter helped turn his world upside down.
While Rummelhoff will not speculate about which student it was who falsely accused him of having sex with a student, in the swirling world of teenage girls and a young and good-looking teacher, jealousies and feelings of hurt could easily break into the realm of accusations and handcuffs.
“Girls were questioned from Lane and other schools,” Rummelhoff said. “Math is all about patterns. These girls were not commenting [on the social media sites], probably because they were talking to investigators. I have no idea what was said. I don’t think their intention was to burn me.”
Then why would they do it?
When we first sat down to do the interview, Rummelhoff talked about how he had to go to battle with students who were not accustomed to being assigned a lot of homework and demanding tests. He challenged his students, and that was what made him a top teacher and coach in the city. It may have also made him vulnerable to vindictive pupils who realize the power they have to fight back with spurious accusations.
Straight out of a John Burge playbook when the rogue city cop would beat confessions out of people, during the investigation, the retired cop/CPS investigator grilled Rummelhoff and tried every trick in the book to make him admit he was a sexual predator.
“Hal would say you did (something) in your house, and I said that’s not possible because my wife is a stay at home mom,” Rummelhoff said. “Then he said, well, it says here you did it in the back office storage room of the pool. I said that’s impossible because the room was filled with boxes. He got frustrated throwing things at me to see what sticks. He would say you did it in random parking lots. He did not have any specific times, dates or locations, just generalizations. And I would just look at him and not answer. Then he would get pretty gross describing all the sexual acts. And he would repeat this about six or seven times. He’s trying to break you.”
Rummelhoff said he had experience taking a deposition before and was well-aware of the tactics of asking speculative questions so that they can find answers that contradict earlier statements to destroy the accused’s credibility.
“‘So why do you think these kids would do this to you?’ I didn’t answer. It’s speculative. ‘Why would they want to get you?’ Silence.” Rummelhoff said.
Rummelhoff said the old cop had pictures of the building where he lives, phone numbers, phone records, and kept asking the speculative questions. And Rummelhoff would keep his silence (at least he didn’t get banged over the head with a telephone book or get strangled by a phone cord a la Burge and associates).
Interestingly enough, Hal later admitted he didn’t have the phone records, but would have them soon, Rummelhoff said.
So why would CPS not put him back in the classroom now that the investigation is complete and all the accusations were utterly unsubstantiated?
The fact that his case was put on the CBS news hour perhaps made him guilty in many minds, and CPS has egg on its face (even though the other TV networks had sense enough to not run the story).
Blakely from CBS said he has been contacting CPS to learn about their findings and that the board of education must have a valid reason to dismiss him.
Rummelhoff surmises that CPS would like to break him, so he would then quit CPS and get on with his life. But in a testament to the winning coach and top notch math teacher beloved by many of the Lane Tech students, Rummelhoff ain’t backing down and intends to hang on.
And so he continues to wait for CPS to admit the truth that it screwed up and return him to the classroom where he belongs.