Superintendent moves accused music teacher out of classroom

Salem-Keizer School District Superintendent Andrea Castañeda removed a teacher from the classroom days after a civil lawsuit accused him of grooming former students at McNary High School.

Her action last week reversed a previous district decision that kept Joshua Rist, 35, working as a music teacher at Kalapuya Elementary School after he admitted to an inappropriate relationship with high school students.

Castañeda said in a Thursday email to Kalapuya families that she made the decision personally after reviewing Rist’s employment history. Rist was placed on paid administrative leave Monday, Oct. 2.

“To the degree that it is within my control as the superintendent of schools, Mr. Rist will not serve in a student-facing role in Salem-Keizer Public Schools,” she said in the message.

Rist did not respond Friday to questions from Salem Reporter about the decision. Court records do not list an attorney representing him in the civil suit.

Rist is again under investigation by the state Teacher Standards and Practices Commission, the state body which licenses teachers, said Cristina Edgar, the director of professional practices.

She confirmed Friday that a new investigation had been opened Oct. 3. State law generally keeps details about such investigations confidential unless the commission imposes discipline at the investigation’s conclusion.

Castañeda said she reviewed Rist’s employment history after two former students filed a civil lawsuit against the teacher and the district. Their complaint alleged that while employed as McNary’s choir teacher, Rist sought opportunities to be alone with teenage students, steered conversations toward sexual topics, commented on students’ physical appearance and spoke of wanting to be with them after they graduated high school.

The conduct took place over several years, ending when the student graduated in 2020, the students said. Rist was employed by the district in 2016, working at McNary from then until 2022.

State records show that in a licensing order signed in June, Rist admitted “an inappropriate relationship with two of his female students.” His teaching license was suspended for 60 days, lasting until Aug. 20, 2023.

“As a systems leader, educator, and mother of daughters, I find Mr. Rist’s admission of misconduct both troubling and serious. My swift removal of Mr. Rist from Kalapuya is evidence of my convictions and commitment to safety,” Castañeda’s email said.

Rist is paid $67,823 per year, district spokesman Aaron Harada said.

Castañeda declined Monday through Suzanne West, the district’s director of strategic initiatives, to answer other questions about Rist’s employment and her decision.

District employees placed on paid administrative leave pending an investigation do not work while the investigation is conducted, West said.

Castañeda’s decision came after parents at Kalapuya learned of the lawsuit and shared concerns about Rist teaching their children music. At least 14 families requested their students be removed from music class in the days after the lawsuit was filed, Harada said.

Castañeda said she reviewed every email sent to her and the school board about Rist and wanted to address families’ “anger, frustration, confusion, and disappointment” with her letter.

Correction: This article misstated the timeframe when former McNary students alleged Rist abused them. Salem Reporter apologizes for the error.

Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

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Rachel Alexander is Salem Reporter’s managing editor. She joined Salem Reporter when it was founded in 2018 and covers city news, education, nonprofits and a little bit of everything else. She’s been a journalist in Oregon and Washington for a decade. Outside of work, she’s a skater and board member with Salem’s Cherry City Roller Derby and can often be found with her nose buried in a book.