From staff reports
Jason Cunningham took a small high school band of 24 students and grew it to around 80 before he left his post as music director at Napoleon High School prior to the 2016-17 school year to take a job at Western Middle School, a stone’s throw away from his home.
Now Cunningham is accused of having a sexual relationship with a student nine years ago and is facing sexual misconduct charges.
Cunningham, 46, was arraigned Wednesday, Sept. 5, on one felony count of third-degree criminal sexual conduct with a student between the age of 16 and 17, records show.
Cunningham is alleged to have had an inappropriate sexual relationship with a female student for a “lengthy period of time” in 2009, while he was a teacher in Napoleon Community Schools, Jackson County Undersheriff Chris Kuhl said.
Cunningham is scheduled for a preliminary examination on Sept. 19 before District Judge Michael Klaeren. He is currently free on a $5,000 personal recognizance bond.
Third-degree criminal sexual conduct is punishable by up to 15 years in prison.
Cunningham taught and served as music director at Napoleon High School for 15 years. Prior to that, he taught at Jackson’s Hunt Elementary School. He was at Western for two years as a music teacher before resigning in July. He submitted a letter of resignation to the district on July 25, stating he was leaving for personal reasons.
Western began investigating allegations regarding Cunningham in early July after a parent in that school district brought the matter to the district’s attention.
The district notified the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office of the accusations in late July, leading detectives to investigate for several weeks before requesting charges from the Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office, Kuhl said.
Cunningham turned himself into police after being notified of the charges, Kuhl added.
“The parent that brought it to my attention found out about it literally that weekend before she called me,” said Western School District Superintendent Mike Smajda. “As soon as this parent found out, they immediately were concerned and made contact with my office.
“The victim did not approach us with the concern,” he said. “This came from a different person that had learned about the situation.
“No Western student was involved. Unfortunately, a student from another district in the area was,” Smajda said.
Smajda sent a letter to school district families on Sept. 4 regarding the issue. The letter addresses alleged misconduct regarding a then-current Western teacher, later identified as Cunningham, at his former place of employment. The letter further states that the district began an investigation with the assistance of the district’s legal counsel. It states that the teacher resigned from Western for personal reasons.
The letter adds that because the allegation involved potential criminal activity, the district also reported the allegation to the local police department who also began investigating the matter.
“I thought it was important to let our parents know,” Smajda said. “We take these situations very seriously. Our job is to keep the children safe and to educate them. A violation of this type of trust is unacceptable. You disrupt a lot of people’s lives, most of all, the victim.”
Napoleon Schools Superintendent Jim Graham said he stayed in contact with Smajda during the investigation and helped in any way the district could.
“Any questions that were asked or information that was needed, we tried to do our best to help in whatever capacity we could as a district.
“When I was first informed, I was very surprised to hear that,” he said when he learned of the matter. “We never had a written complaint, a verbal complaint, anything of that nature.”
Graham said he would send out a district-wide communication on the matter as well.