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Girls 'uncomfortable' with accused teacher's e-mail

December 12, 2001 

An Ann Arbor elementary teacher accused of inappropriately touching a student also allegedly engaged in conversations over the Internet this year with several former students that they told authorities made them feel "very uncomfortable."

The new information about the online messages came in police reports released Tuesday under the Freedom of Information Act.

In one message to a student now in eighth grade, the police report says, Mitchell Elementary teacher Worlee Dennis Jr. asked the girl to come over to his home so he could take a picture of her for her Web page. Another student said Dennis invited her over to record some songs.

The documents shed light on the accusations against the 10-year veteran teacher, who faces a court hearing Dec. 19 on a charge of second-degree criminal sexual assault. He remains on a paid administrative leave from his fourth-grade classroom.

The criminal case surfaced Oct. 25 after two eighth-graders printed out America Online Instant Messenger conversations they had with Dennis and brought them to show a teacher at Scarlett Middle School, the police reports said. The teacher turned them over to the principal, who contacted police.

During the investigation, a sixth-grader then told authorities that Dennis had her touch him inappropriately while she was sitting on his knee in class two years ago when he was her teacher, the reports said.

Several students said Dennis sent messages to them, but they told police he did not touch them or have them touch him, the police reports said. The students said Dennis got their screen names while they were in his class. They also sometimes messaged him with homework questions, the reports said. Dennis does not face any criminal charges as a result of the messages, but the school district also is conducting an internal investigation of the incident.

Joseph Simon, Dennis' attorney, said that although the e-mails could be considered "curious or inappropriate" by some, they do not amount to a criminal case. "Despite a lengthy investigation, there's been one and only one criminal allegation, which we deny," Simon said.

The instant messages, which the school district turned over to police, were not released under The News' Freedom of Information Act request. Dennis did not proposition any of the girls in the messages, said Sgt. Michael Logghe. "One could argue that the e-mails were certainly inappropriate," Logghe said.

One eighth-grader said Dennis wrote to her about a class trip they took to Independence Lake in fifth grade, reports said.

"... As she looks back now, she remembers that at the end of the day he was always around them," the police report said. "She stated that in the instant message, he told her friend to not tell anyone what had happened at Independence Lake, stating to them that he felt they became close that day. She and (the friend) talked about that and could not understand what he was talking about."

Another student said Dennis sent her a lot of instant messages this year late in the evenings. "When she got an instant message from him when he told her that he liked her, she felt that he was saying he liked her in a bad way," the report said.

In a letter to Worlee dated Nov. 19, Gary Doolittle, the school district's executive director of human resources, said the instant messages are of "great concern to the district" because of the nature of the messages and age of the recipients. He said in the letter that the district is reserving judgment and disciplinary action on the matter until the criminal case is resolved.

The police reports also reference an incident in Dennis' classroom last school year in which he reportedly played a videotape that was supposed to be of a vacation, but instead showed his wife naked in bed.

Dennis received a letter from the district dated Jan. 19 telling him to exercise caution in the future before showing any videos.

If convicted of second-degree criminal sexual conduct, Dennis could face up to 15 years in prison. He is free on bond.

By AMALIE NASH, NEWS STAFF REPORTER. Copyright © 2001 Michigan Live Inc.

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