A Cass County school district is on edge after an educator was tied to an investigation of inappropriate contact with at least one student.
Joe Dahman, son of Harrisonville School District Superintendent Frank Dahman, has resigned his position at Harrisonville High School after being placed on administrative leave.
Though no criminal charges have been filed against Joe Dahman, the Harrisonville Police Department’s investigation is ongoing.
The resignation comes as rumors spread through a divided community waiting for further developments in the case.
A manipulated image depicting the faces of Joe Dahman and a female student on a lewd poster for “Sexual Predator,” a pornographic thriller, has circulated among students at Harrisonville and possibly beyond.
One student, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, shared insight into the strained atmosphere in the high school.
“Throughout the halls, it’s been kind of mean, harsh maybe,” said the senior. “The pictures going around that involve ... (Joe) Dahman is getting out of hand. It makes the hall uncomfortable to walk through.”
Before the allegations, Joe Dahman had ascended to a degree of prominence in the community. The 2010 graduate of Harrisonville High played on the 2007 state champion football team as a linebacker. He later attended college at Missouri Western State University in St. Joseph and was a member of the football team, though the school’s website indicates he played just one game over three seasons.
He was married in mid-July, according to Cass County deeds records. He was 26 at the time.
He returned to his alma mater before the 2015-16 school year, hired about a month after his father was named the new superintendent. State salary records show Joe Dahman received significantly higher pay in his first year than his counterparts, while also earning an additional sum for extracurricular roles.
An email to Joe Dahman’s address as listed on the district’s site bounced back because the address could not be found. His social media accounts have been deactivated.
Rebecca Randles is familiar with how communities react when a prominent figure is accused of inappropriate conduct. The Kansas City-based attorney has represented hundreds of sexual assault victims, with many of her cases involving clergymen, teachers and other prominent people.
“If the perpetrator is popular with the other kids in the schools, there’s usually a schism that develops in the school, the ‘us-versus-them,’ ” she said. That schism can turn peers against one another, she added, intensifying harsh treatment already common among teens.
Joe Dahman’s resignation last week has not alleviated the schism already developing in Harrisonville. Some of the comments made online have turned ugly, calling to mind shaming of victims and alleged victims in places like Holton, Kan., Maryville, Mo., and elsewhere.
Mark Naines, in a comment about an article regarding Joe Dahman, called for patience as the investigation plays out, but he also shed doubt on the alleged victim or victims’ believability.
“There have been reports of teenagers accusing teachers of inappropriate touching to “get revenge” on the teacher for that teacher giving them a low grade in class,” Naines wrote. “So not all of these accusations of sexual misconduct by teachers are clean cut-and-dry cases.”
Many others have said Joe Dahman should be considered innocent until proven guilty, a stance that can belittle alleged victims, Randles said.
“When you’re asking someone to believe a victim, you’re asking them to feel their pain,” she said. “It’s much easier to believe the person who isn’t victimized because there’s no pain in believing them. To believe that there are people out there that can be predatory to children, that in and of itself is painful to most people.”
Shauna Hasek, the wife of Harrisonville Mayor Brian Hasek and a mother of a student in the district, said she hopes all parties are treated fairly going forward. She believes residents of the town should withhold judgment of Joe Dahman until more information comes to light.
“At the same time, if there are victims in this case, they should be treated with respect, too,” Hasek said. “I do hope that the school stays safe for my daughter.”
Another parent, who wished not to be named, said she’s concerned about some of the comments on social media conveying support for Joe Dahman.
“We need to be offering support to these students and not victim shaming them,” she said.
As rumors and allegations have circulated in the community about Joe Dahman’s conduct, so, too, have questions about his pay.
During the 2015-16 school year, Joe Dahman was the highest-paid aide in the district, according to salary figures reported by the district to the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
Joe Dahman earned a $25,000 salary for the 2015-16 school year, according to the state records. The other four aides with the same level of education as Joe Dahman — a bachelor’s degree — made an average of $17,404.50.
While he was the highest paid, Joe Dahman was also the least-experienced aide. In his first full year as a staff member in a Missouri public school, his salary was about $7,500 higher than his four counterparts, who averaged 9 years of experience, according to state records.
There were two other aides that year listed as having the same position as Joe Dahman — focus facilitator — and education level as him. They earned $17,296 but had 17 years of experience in the district between them.
All 36 full-time aides in the district made an average of $14,640 that year. Most did not have a bachelor’s degree.
Superintendent Frank Dahman has not responded to multiple requests for comment regarding his son’s pay.
By the 2016-17 school year, Joe Dahman’s base salary increased by $9,000, to $34,000. The two other focus facilitators in the district who also had bachelor’s degrees received an average raise of $532.50.
The district’s website continued to list Dahman’s role as “focus facilitator/ISS” throughout that school year, the same support staff title for which he was initially hired.
However, the district said in response to a question that Joe Dahman was a “probationary teacher” for the 2016-17 school year. The district did not divulge whether he had earned a teaching certification before he received the raise, citing that such information was considered closed under the Missouri Sunshine Law.
In addition to his base salary, Joe Dahman also earned $5,239 in extra duty pay in 2015-16 and $6,450 the next year for his coaching roles on the football and wrestling teams as well as teaching summer school, weightlifting and online health classes.
Frank Dahman earned approximately $150,000 in his first year in the district, 2015-16, the last year figures were available from DESE.
Joe Price, a former school board member, was on the board when it made the decision to hire Frank and Joe Dahman. Price considered Joe Dahman a qualified applicant, though he said board members at the time discussed the possibility of the appearance of nepotism.
“We weren’t doing Frank any favors (by hiring his son),” Price said. “We thought we were doing the community a favor. ... Joe’s a quality kid — well that’s now come into question.”
Susie Yoder, another former school board member at that time, recalled a phone conversation with Frank Dahman in which the soon-to-be superintendent asked about his son’s prospects of being hired. She told him she was opposed to having a superintendent’s family member being employed in the district.
But Joe Dahman’s hire was approved unanimously by the board.
Some parents have been vocal on social media in their criticism of the district for not being more transparent about the allegations of inappropriate contact. A release addressing the allegations was issued by the district, but only to staff members and the media.
“If they were going to release it to the media, they should have called the parents,” said Tiffany Klassen, a mother of two students at the high school.
Harrisonville High Principal Mark Wiegers, in his first year with the district, has not released a public statement regarding the allegations.
Randles, the sexual assault attorney, said that in similar cases principals making a public statement to students and the community can serve as a deterrent to divisiveness within a school.
“The safest course for a principal is to say, ‘ We want to make sure all our students are protected, and we’re investigating the matter,’ ” she said.
Klassen has confidence authorities will get to the bottom of what transpired.
“I’m sure everything will be investigated,” she said, “and the truth will be discovered one way or the other.”
The Star’s Jason Boatright contributed to this story.